My parents who will be celebrating 50 years of marriage this year, would probably be better suited to be giving advice on the secrets to a successful marriage. But today, I’d like to share some secrets to living a financially happy one.
Money can often be a touchy topic when in a relationship. And understandably so, as many of the arguments in a relationship that arise over money, seem to be less about actual money issues and more an issue of control. Finances are very personal, and thus, sharing or giving up some control of one’s finances is not easy. One of the first financial decisions newlyweds must make (or really, any couples deciding to share living quarters) is whether to marry or not marry your finances by creating joint accounts. It’s an important question to address, but it can often evolve into a hot button issue. But even if you’ve chosen not to marry your accounts together, you’re in this together and while you may not agree on absolutely everything, it’s essential to work together. Love it or hate it, finances play a huge role in relationships. The real secret is in how you deal with it.
I’m reminded of a wedding gift we received that sits just outside our room – a framed poem that reads “To love each other, does not mean to look at each other, but to look together in the same direction.”
Communicate with each other (not the TV)
So you’re together now, now what? Oh right, I’ll just flip on the TV (or whatever iDevice you have). Nooooo! It’s surprising how many couples today do and spend very little time talking to each other anymore. And when we do, we spend more time discussing other people’s lives, more than our own! Communication is crucial to any successful relationship. And it’s important to talk openly about your finances and your future goals. Do you see the same things? Do you share the same perspective? Do you share the same values?
Prior to getting married, my wife and I were required to take these uber-boring premarital classes in preparation for marriage, which I’m sure more than a few of you, may have experienced. It lasted for three whole days. But because money issues affect so many relationships, with now 4 in 10 first Canadian marriages ending in divorce, our local church took it upon themselves, to dedicate the whole last day to discussing personal finances. Every couple was given a set of activities and had to discuss amongst each other and try to make decisions on a wide range of financial issues, including our life goals, how we would raise our children, what type of education they would have, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, obviously, they didn’t expect everyone to have concrete answers on every subject that day, but it opened up the lines of communication. Luckily, my wife and I had already discussed much of this before. But it was even more surprising, in hearing from some of the other couples, just how few of them, had even discussed one of the issues. And some of the questions were not even specifically finance in nature. I mean, if asking “how many children you both want”, or “if you want any at all”, gets one of you shrugging your shoulders at this point, God help you!
For many, finances are a tough thing for people to talk openly about. I see some other cultures that are very open to discussing money, so I definitely think that it’s been something ingrained into our Western mindset. But whenever we’re confronted with money issues, the worst we can do is choose to ignore them and walk away. They won’t go away. Communication is the key to both successful finances and to any healthy relationship. For some specific questions that you and your significant other need to answer, be sure to check out Shannon’s post this week, Couples Financial Therapy: 4 Keys to a Happy Marriage, at theheavypurse.com.
Be supportive of each other
Some disagreements about money are inevitable. But the worst thing you can do is play the blame game. Be supportive of your partner. It doesn’t matter who earns what in a relationship. You have to let that go! You’re both in this together, for “richer, or for poorer”.
You don’t just get married and wipe your hands clean either. You have a responsibility to each other and to the little ones you may choose to bring into this world. The fact that one of you is carrying a lot of debt, isn’t the ‘real’ problem, it’s in how you deal with it. My wife also came into our relationship with a lot of student debt, but I wouldn’t be doing us both any favours if I had just said “you deal with it”. As a couple, you owe it to yourselves to work together, learn together from past mistakes, and be supportive of one another. No one should be footing the sole financial burden.
Work together as a team to achieve common goals
Set a future plan in place. Think about what it is that you both want out of life. It’s important that you’re both on the same page. Everyone has their hobbies, but every couple has (should have) shared dreams (children, housing, retirement, travel) that should align. Draw up a budget and build your roadmap to get there. My wife and I schedule a budget meeting every month to see that we’re on track.
And when I say work together as a team, I mean get involved. I don’t mean “Ya, my husband does the finances because he’s good at math”. The couple that saves together, stays together. Invest some time to review your investments and spending to get a sense of where you are, how far you’ve come and how far along you are from reaching your goals. Remember the acronym: Together Everyone Achieves More.
The final secret is to never keep anything a secret
Yes, the secret to a financially happy marriage, is to never keep money secrets from your spouse. Big or small, financial infidelity can cause some deep rifts in a relationship. Be honest about what you’re spending, any money owed and any other financial obligations you may have. I prefer joint accounts, as they eliminate a lot of this. Life gets busy and complicated and joining finances, for the most part, simplifies things. However, it might not be for everyone. But if you’re only sharing part of it, you’re not really getting a complete financial picture. Full transparency helps to build trust.
So, as you can see, the secrets to a financially happy marriage are not really secrets at all. But they’re life-long commitments. And you want that, well, because your future and future children depend on it.