Money has long been touted as one of the most common ailments in marriage. Disagreements about how to save and how to spend money happen more often than most would like to admit, and yet, there is little that can be done to prevent finances from throwing a wrench in your plans at times. There are, however, a few strategies to use to be proactive in protecting your relationship from the uncertainty of life economics.
Save, save, save!
The single, most important strategy for expecting the unexpected is to save! While this concept has long been passed from one generation to the next, the availability of credit and loans to young people makes it increasingly difficult to understand the value of saving. It is not uncommon for a couple to have tens of thousands of dollars in debts; student loans, new cars, houses, and credit cards are, for the most part, staples in the lives of couples in the United States. Often the amount of money owed is significantly higher than the amount of money a couple has saved. As a couple, it is important to talk about it and come up with a plan for saving that works for you. Determine how much money will be saved each paycheck and what kinds of expenses should be paid for out of the account. Expect the unexpected; save for the “just in case.”
Who is going to do what?
For any kind of task, it is difficult to complete something efficiently if two people are trying to do the same things. In marriage, it is essential to designate responsibilities to each individual. Determining who is going to be in charge of what and sticking to the plan can reduce the stress that finances bring to a relationship. By planning ahead and engaging in individual responsibilities, each partner can take part in managing expenses and budgeting. As previously mentioned, it is important to talk about it and come to a sort of mutual agreement determining how the responsibilities will be shared.
Let’s talk about it
It is not only important to talk about saving, spending, and responsibilities. It is essential to maintain open and assertive communication with your partner about finances. Being assertive can be difficult, especially when sharing disappointing information or concerns. But it is vital to leave the door for communication open. Assertiveness is not to be mistaken for aggressiveness – confrontation with your partner is not necessary to get your point across. if you are concerned about spending or about your partner not following through on their half of the work, use phrases that reflect personal responsibility. Opening with phrases such as, “I think…” or “I feel…” indicate to your spouse that you are taking responsibility for your feelings but wish to share what is bothering you. Be aware of body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice; all of these can change the nature of the actual words that are being spoken.
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As partners, a couple must work as a team, not as opponents. Just as in sports, your most valuable asset and greatest support come from your teammate. Talking out problems and making decisions together is essential to maintaining shared responsibility in financial stability. If you already have an established system of communication and separation of responsibilities, the possibility of unexpected expenses seems far less daunting. Being open and flexible with one another can encourage cohesion and prevent uncertainty and unplanned events from damaging trust and security in the relationship.
By being proactive and establishing a general structure within your marriage for handling expenses, unplanned events become less stressful. Handling finances in a marriage should feel like a partnership rather than a competition. If you find yourself frequently arguing over money and finances with your loved one, take a step back. Look at the relationship each of you has with money. Is there room for growth or improvement in any areas? Can you see a conflict of responsibilities or tasks? Are there any changes or adjustments to make when budgeting that would allow each of you to have needs and wants both met? These four strategies may not be the answer for you, but they are a good place to start!
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Elizabeth McCormick is a Licensed Social Worker and mental health counselor at the University of Evansville. She has worked for several years with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families and has pursued continued education in the fields of suicide prevention and community awareness. She is an advocate for learning and has had the opportunity to teach college courses in the fields of Human Services, Sociology, and Communication Studies. Despite being career driven, she enjoys running (three marathons and counting!), reading for pleasure, writing, and spending time with family. And though she lives in a Midwest town surrounded by corn and soy fields, she considers anywhere near the ocean to be more like home.
(Elizabeth McCormick is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Evansville)