Love & Finances – How to Keep Money from Harming Your Relationship
We’ve recently found out that friends of ours have split up.
I don’t know what exactly occurred between them that lead to the split. But everyone that knew them, knew there were always issues. Mostly, those issues involved money matters.
Before him, she had been a waitress living in a very small rented place, riding her bicycle back and forth to work. He was from a well-off family and always lived in a nice place and had nice things. He worked and focused on having the large home they had, and filling it with things he appreciated. She worked too. She worked her way upward in her field and did very well for herself. But she wasn’t happy. Eventually, she quit her career, preferring “happiness” to how her job made her feel, and spent her time in her garden, or on her arts and crafts, or with her pets, or doing volunteer work.
They were never joint about their finances. I realize joint finances aren’t for everybody.
They had certain agreements. He paid certain bills, she paid certain bills. As in any partnership, they each had a clear view of what the other expected.
Without taking sides, I can see where both of them failed.
He never accepted that she was who she was. He never accepted that she was not materialistic even in the most basic way. He never saw that the things she committed to pay, she committed to because of him and his wants. He never saw her for who she really was, this very free hippie-like spirit that just didn’t really care about money.
She never should have made the commitment to pay certain bills because of things he wanted. She should have been more forceful about who she was and what she valued. She should have said “no.”
Money trouble is one of the leading causes of divorce.
There are many major things you and your partner can differ on, like politics, and still manage to maintain a healthy solid relationship. But there are some things two people really need to see eye to eye on in order to make their relationship work. Having children is one of them. Money matters is another.
When you talk to your partner about finances and money, you need to be as honest and as real as you can be. Accordingly, you need to really listen to them. You need to get to the root of both your value systems.In the example of our recently separated friends, he never accepted her very non-materialistic way of life. He built a relationship and a house based on his ideals, not hers. He made no compromises really. They were all hers. Maybe in your mind, the word materialistic isn’t the best one. Maybe the words security or stability would be more appropriate. Don’t get caught up in semantics. Get to the truth.Are you the kind of person that likes to have credit cards paid off, that hates renting and wants to own a home instead. That doesn’t buy things they can’t afford. That has life insurance and long term disability insurance, and insurance through the credit card company in case something happens where they can’t pay their bills. Or are you the kind of person that wants to live in the now. Would you rather rent and have extra pocket cash. Do you want to travel, don’t mind quitting a job to do so. Are you looking to collect adventures instead of Lladro or credit report points. Are you somewhere in between? Are you the extreme of one or the other? Do you seriously not care if you default on a credit card or let your car get repossessed. Do you only buy things that are on sale, squirreling every penny you can find away? Whatever the answer is, figure it out. And, figure out where your partner is. Then figure out together if you can make this work. If you are honest with each other about your values regarding money, then you can be honest about the compromises you are willing to accept. All relationships involve compromise. Expecting one party to do all the compromising will end in disaster.
Don’t agree if you really don’t agree.
Say he’s the spender and she’s the saver. They figure out they have a lot of the same views and values; neither wants to rent, both want to buy a house. But she wants to buy a house she thinks they can afford, and he wants to go for it and buy a house they probably can’t. The compromise could be reached by finding a house in the middle of both those price ranges. Or, if they go with the modest house, then he can have a new car. Or, if they go with the expensive house, he will get a second job.If they can’t agree on a compromise, this is a very bright red flag. This is exactly the kind of situation that could take down a marriage. This was a major part of the failure of our friend’s marriage. She agreed to cover certain bills, and then gave up her job and reneged on her promise to cover those obligations. They went into debt. And they fell apart. She should never have given her word to bring in X amount of dollars if she felt the way she did about working. Or, she should never have quit her job while having that financial obligation.Once you’re a partner, your decisions affect more than just you. You don’t get to make decisions based on what you want alone anymore. You have to consider the other person. You can’t just decide to bring a cat home if your partner is allergic. You can’t sell all the furniture and buy all new furniture without consulting with the other person using and paying for furniture with you. And you can’t just quit your job and default on all your financial obligations, leaving your partner holding the bag - in debt and responsible. At the very least, when you have the conversation about finances with your partner, you have to agree to agree. You have to really agree that you are going to think like a partner. You have to agree that you will not make major purchases, or changes, without consulting with them first. You have to agree that you understand that someone else’s life is now leaning on you and your decisions. I think many couples starting out don’t understand that. I’m all for maintaining your individuality even though you are a partner. But that doesn’t mean you can do something like go into debt without understanding your partner is ALSO, by default, going into debt with you. If you can’t wrap your head around that, then you probably can’t wrap your head around marriage. Even if you maintain separate finances, you have an obligation to keep your promises, whatever those may have been. Whatever you agreed to, whatever bills you accepted to pay, whatever dollar amount you need to put into the household, you need to keep your word, just as you would in business or with a roommate.
Maybe you have had the discussion, share the same values, and have made good agreements and compromises regarding your finances.
But something unforeseen happens. One of you is injured and can’t work. One of you gets fired. One of you loses his business. The bank calls in your mortgage. Something happens that changes everything. What then.The main thing to remember here is that no promise was broken. You can’t blame your partner for something that was out of his control. You can’t be mad at him for not keeping his end of the agreement when he has really tried to, and has failed for reasons that have nothing to do with him.Now is when you need to be a partner. Maybe you agreed to buy a certain house, and not rent. Well, that needs to be revisited. Maybe that isn’t an option anymore. Resenting him for something out of his control won’t suddenly help you pay the mortgage. This is the hard stuff you sign on for when you make a real commitment to someone. Maybe you have to postpone your future, cancel vacations, sell your house, and move into a small apartment you can afford. Maybe you aren’t happy about this. Imagine how your partner feels. If you can’t say to yourself, getting through this together is more important than that house I really wanted, then it isn’t his being unemployed that ends your marriage. When you make your agreements and compromises, you should consider emergencies. You should think about what you would do if one or both of you lost jobs, was injured, got sick, etc. Maybe you can’t make a plan for something you can’t imagine, but you can figure out if you’d both be on the same page about things. You can figure out in a basic way what you each really value in the long run, and how you’d get through a real hardship if you had to.
How do you keep from fighting? How do you keep it together while your finances are falling apart?
Revisit your values together.
This isn’t the best conversation to have in the heat of an argument. Times are tough everywhere. People are struggling financially. If you’re finding yourself resenting him for a purchase he’s made, or resenting her for not earning more than she does, then you need to do this. Arguing constantly over money is not healthy, and will eventually wear both of you down.
Make a date to talk about this. This gives both of you time to think about the things you want to say, and to look into options for some of your ideas. Then sit down with a pot of coffee or a bottle of scotch, and have a very real conversation about money.
Look at bills and debt. Look at your budget. Talk about your jobs and your fears and your needs. Talk about each other’s earnings and spending habits. Discuss what you find irritating. Explain some alternatives.
But say it out loud, and mean it, and agree, that the important thing is staying together, and working through this.
I can give you many money management ideas: The cost of a set of free weights and an elliptical machine is probably less than the cost of both your gym memberships for 8 months. Cut out or cut down on the beer – maybe it saves $10 a week, maybe it kick starts both your diets. Brown bag instead of buying lunch. Sell one car and share just one car. Sometimes just talking about these things will spark up more ideas.
If one of you isn’t willing to sacrifice during these hard times, then she is thinking about herself instead of about the partnership. And that’s truly a problem. Refocus: try to understand that this isn’t about judgments or punishments. This is the economy, and things that are unforeseen, and things that could end your marriage. It isn’t about fault. It’s about making your relationship a priority in a hardship, and doing what you both need to do together to make it through.
If you have to make major decisions, like downsizing your home, tempers are going to flare. It’s easy to go to a place in your head that is defensive and finger pointing. You think about the dumb investments he’s made, the things he’s wasted money on, …
Imagine this: imagine you and your husband are having an argument, and he falls and breaks his arm. What do you do? You forget the fight, you forget your anger, and you prioritize the problem at hand. You help him get to the car. You drive him to the emergency room. You hold him and pray his pain is tolerable. You fill out the forms in the hospital. You argue with the receptionist that your husband needs to be seen NOW. You call the insurance company. You do everything you can do.
A financial crisis is exactly the same thing. Forget your anger, forget the fights, forget the things that may or may not have contributed. Fighting them out now isn’t going to help. Think about the tasks at hand. As a partner, as a person, refocus yourself for an emergency and act accordingly.
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