Marriage and Money: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Marriage and Money
Having open and honest communication around money management, you and your partner can share personal goals and concerns, understand each other's financial habits, establish alignment, and agree upon a shared vision.

What does money have to do with love and marriage? As it turns out, quite a lot. The number one issue at the center of marital contention is not intimacy or children — it’s actually money. Financial disagreements are all too common for many married couples. Let’s dive deeper into why that is and how you can create a healthy relationship with money in your marriage.

What Does Money Have to Do With Love?

Your decisions about money and marriage shape your entire life. Both will affect your happiness and quality of life. Sure, love makes the world go ‘round, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Likewise, an obsession over money will hurt your relationship, especially when you let it drive a wedge between you. Financial disagreements are one of the leading causes of divorce.

In a committed relationship, your financial decisions affect more than you alone. Your spouse, your children, and your future grandchildren will be affected by the way you treat money. In my 20-plus years of counseling couples about their finances, I’ve learned that money is a sensitive subject. It always brings out emotions, often buried deep inside from childhood. And unfortunately, because it’s usually not top of mind when you’re dating or on your honeymoon, couples can find themselves blindsided by the money obstacles or challenges that pop up once you’re married.

If this sounds familiar, don’t hit the panic button right away. 

Money Discussions With Your Marriage Partner

For couples preparing to get married, don’t ignore each other’s views on money. Most people’s beliefs on money began in their early childhood, so you may need to explore that to understand where you’re both coming from. Marriage is a lifelong commitment, and this shouldn’t be taken lightly. By having these conversations early, you can anticipate where you may have to compromise with your spouse on money management later on.

Even if you’re well beyond the engagement stage, these conversations are beneficial to have. Open communication about money establishes trust and transparency and gives you insight into each other’s money mindsets.

For example, here are questions you could answer for each other:

  • How do you feel when you get money?
  • What excites you about money?
  • What does your family think about money?
  • What kind of economic background did you grow up in, and how do you think that influences you today?
  • Do you have strong opinions about money and family?
  • Do you have any concerns about my approach to spending, saving, or investing?
  • Where do you think we differ the most around money?

Make these conversations an open and respectful dialogue where you both have a chance to feel understood. During these conversations, there is a certain vulnerability, so it is necessary to avoid judging each other. 

The Role of Financial Transparency

Just as trust is important in every aspect of marriage, it’s equally as important to be financially transparent with your partner. Moreover, your honesty about money in a relationship is a precursor to your honesty about other things in the relationship. Oftentimes, people enter relationships with debt, savings, investments, or loans. It’s important to be transparent about all of these things, and especially important to be forthright about financial obligations that could impact their ability to borrow money, whether that be a bad credit score, a lien, or student loan debt.

Sharing information with your fiancé or spouse about your income and earnings is necessary for trust and healthy communication. Committing financial infidelity by hiding income or new debt is a recipe for marriage problems. This is why financial transparency matters. Knowing where you both stand individually will help guide what direction you need to go as a team.

Money disagreements typically come from misaligned expectations. You and your partner likely had very different upbringings, which influences the individual mindsets and habits you each have with money. As a result, you may have different expectations about how the money will be managed in your marriage than your spouse does; this is quite normal.

Navigating Money Disagreements

As a husband of nearly 22 years and a long-time wealth manager to some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, the best advice I can give is this: communicate honestly and regularly. If you have open and honest communication around money management, you and your partner can share personal goals and concerns, understand each other’s financial habits, establish alignment, and agree upon a shared vision. You will support each other and complement each other’s different viewpoints. This will take out some of the guesswork for future decisions about saving, spending, investing, and borrowing. It will also prevent unnecessary arguments over money matters. In the absence of communication, there is growing speculation and mistrust, but this can be alleviated with consistent, efficient communication.

Circumstances change over time, including your income, net worth, or the size of your family. Be prepared to discuss how you want to handle money for new expenses or unpredicted circumstances that may arise. For instance, how you see money being spent on kids may be different from what your spouse expects. One parent may be inclined to spoil the kids, while the other is looking to hold back and teach more self-reliance. Alternatively, unpredictable circumstances like job loss can be a strain on finances. According to a Reader’s Digest survey, 47 percent of respondents said a layoff or job loss was a major challenge in their relationship. As these changes arise, be prepared to address them as a team rather than allowing them to drive a wedge between you.

Recognize That Things Change Over Time

In 2008, my wife and I experienced a life-changing scenario just like this. One particular Sunday, we sat in church absorbing a sermon about finding hope in life’s difficult trials. As if on cue, an endless stream of notifications bombarded my phone as clients and colleagues relentlessly tried to reach me. The company, Merrill Lynch, was on the verge of bankruptcy, only to be saved by a backroom deal when Bank of America bought it.

This catapulted my eventual departure from the secure job I once knew, as I decided to resign and start my own company and become an entrepreneur. While my wife was endlessly supportive, the uncertainty was unnerving for her, as we had a big mortgage and a few young kids at that time. I explained how I believed we would be able to grow my new business to eventually replace and exceed my income and give us more financial security than working for the big Wall Street bank I’d been at my entire career. Having her support and confidence as I took that leap of faith was critical, and it was fostered by open communication.

Marriage and Money Matters

Having a healthy relationship with money in your marriage is a collaborative effort. Remember that financial disagreements are a normal part of any relationship. Disagreements do not have to lead to fights or the end of the relationship. Once you and your partner create alignment and increase communication, you will likely avoid disputes and achieve your life and financial goals. Understand that your finances are not just about how much money you have but also how you manage what you do have. Considering that 1 in 3 Americans lack financial literacy, couples should consider working with an independent fiduciary coach.

With the guidance of a professional, a financial coach can help you and your partner decide what you want to accomplish and give strategic ways to reach those goals. They can also provide guidance on budgeting, investing, and other financial management skills. Working with a financial coach can help couples to avoid common financial pitfalls and build a more secure financial future together. Your decisions about money and marriage shape your entire life, and the level of effort and care you invest in this important issue will pay dividends for decades to come. No matter where you’re starting from today, you can provide a boost to your marriage and family by increasing communication and unity in your financial life.

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