Money and politics are subjects we're not supposed to talk about, right? But if you want to have a healthy marriage, you have to talk about money.
I realize that's a bold statement. I'll back it up with facts.
Numerous studies cite the divorce rates for first marriages in American at around 50%.
Divorce rates for second marriages are around 75%. It's easier to end the second marriage.
To be clear, I'm not a marriage counselor nor am I trying to be. We're in serious trouble if that's the case!
In my marriage of almost thirty-five years, I can tell you that some of our biggest challenges have been over money.
If you've been married for any length of time, I'm sure you can trace some of your more significant disagreements over the topic.
So, how do you talk about money? What do you do when you can't agree? How do you resolve those issues?
My goal is to offer a framework for communicating that you can use in any area of conflict.
Money and divorce
If you do a Google search on the causes of divorce, you'll find millions of pages of results. I googled the phrase, “what are the top 5 causes of divorce” in my initial search.
Google shows 67,200,000 results. That's a lot of opinions (or is it research?). Below is a sampling of some of the top three:
- Lack of support in good times
- Incompatibility with finances
- Communication issues
- Poor communication
Lest you think I'm cherry-picking, take a look for yourself – what are the top 5 causes of divorce.
Communication made it to the top three of all the lists.
Communication is at the heart of most of our problems in life, don't you think?
Whether it's in your marriage, your workplace, on social media (don't get me started), email, or texting, words matter.
The tone of voice matters. Cathy and I both have to remind each other of that fact. Both of us are passionate people. Sometimes that passion gets a bit over the top. For those keeping score at home, I have FAR more reminders about that than she does. It's not even close!
Understanding each other's passions while showing grace and patience with one another is not something that comes naturally to either of us.
Does it for anybody?
There are times when we have to go to neutral corners. Early in our marriage, we hadn't learned to do that. In time, we did. It's helped us get through difficult times. When you're dealing with a son who is an addict, you either learn to communicate or your marriage will likely not survive.
By the Grace of God, we learned to do that. Our marriage not only survived but is stronger than ever.
Here are three things we try to do to get through areas of conflict. They apply to money or most any topic.
Fundamentals of good communication
- Listen – So often these days, we find ourselves talking over each other. You see it all the time on social media. You hear politicians do it regularly. The breakdown, IMO, stems from our inability to listen to another viewpoint. If that enters a marriage, it will damage the most critical relationship in your life. It's hard to do. Sometimes, we just want to be heard. For someone to listen to us. When discussing money, it's easy to forget.
- Compromise – I know. I know. How can you be right and compromise? We want to win! Well, you know the saying about that. Win the battle but lose the war. Here's the thing. Winning a series of arguments will have the opposite effect it does in combat. A succession of argument wins can lead to a significant loss in your marriage. And isn't it usually the little things that cause the biggest stinks? Talk about and agree on the major principles. Let the little things go.
- Forgive – Ah yes, the other “F” word – forgiveness! Grudges damage relationships. They fester and come out later worse than when they started. Unforgiveness doesn't hurt the other person. It hurts us. It gives them power over us. We all make mistakes. In a marriage, some of those mistakes hurt. I think of the words of Jesus when he said, “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” Whether or not you're a Christian, there's a sound principle here. We've all messed up. We've hurt our spouse too. Forgiving is a healing salve in a relationship.
These three fundamentals form the foundation for the rest of our discussion.
A budget establishes saving and spending levels. It's a way to keep score reasonably. If the two of you work together to create your budget, both have ownership of the outcomes. If one establishes it and tries convincing the other to agree to it, it can result in resentment.
Let's see how the three communication fundamentals apply when making a budget.
What you value should define how you spend. For this exercise, we'll assume you are in sync on the values. If you aren't, continue to step 2. Let one person express their views while the other listens. Feel free to take notes. Try not to interrupt (a difficult one for us) until the other says they've finished.
Once that happens, ask questions as needed for clarification. Follow the same process with the other person.
Look at the big picture things first (housing, cars, furnishings, etc.). Utilities, phones, internet, should make up the next level. Savings should be a line item. Agree on a percentage of income. From there, move to discretionary items like clothing, eating out, entertainment, and travel.
Doing this can bring you to a big picture budget. Establish categories with spending levels for each.
No couple I know of, including us, agrees on everything. Rather than trying to convince your spouse to your way of thinking, be willing to meet somewhere in the middle. Disagreements usually come in the area of discretionary spending. Maybe one of you wants to travel more. The other may want to eat out more often. Talk through the issues and be willing to compromise in your position.
That doesn't mean compromising values. You've already agreed on those.
We have an agreement to talk about any purchases outside our budget.
A recent example is kitchen countertops. Cathy has wanted them for years. I resisted based on what I “thought” it would cost. I never actually researched it. In my head, I had a picture of how much it would cost and shot the idea down.
And we needed them. The old ones were in bad shape.
I finally agreed to let her get some quotes (compromise). She is a great negotiator. The result?
We now have some beautiful new countertops that were half of the price I had in my crazy head. They look great. Plus we got a new sink and faucet out of the deal.
It was a win-win.
In any marriage, one of you will make a mistake. You will spend money on something over the budgeted amount. That could be an impulse buy on a new dress or a $300 driver for your golf clubs. Either way, it will happen.
Beating the guilty party up about it will only make things worse. Go back to the fundamentals and listen to the offending party's reasons why they did it.
I'll tell you the truth; this is not easy. It is, however, critical to the process. Ask yourself. Have you ever spent something outside the budgeted amount? Of course, you have. We've all done it at one time or another.
Another thing Cathy and I try to do in these situations is to listen as the offended party expresses how that makes them feel. Being on the receiving end of this conversation stinks. It motivates you to avoid it so you won't be in that situation again. So, the next time you're tempted to do it, it's a good reminder to get in touch with how uncomfortable it is.
We've been at it so long this rarely happens to us anymore. We've learned to talk through these decisions. Both of us have made compromises over the years.
Conversations about money come more easily the more you have them. It wasn't always that way.
It takes effort. Like anything worthwhile, it's work worth doing.
Since just about any study on divorce has money as one of the top reasons for divorce, it behooves us to pay attention to it. If you can have healthy discussions about money, it will be easier to talk through other tough situations.
And it's a process. You'll make mistakes. Give grace to each other when you mess up.
Equally important, extend grace and forgiveness to yourself when you make a financial mistake. I don't know about you, but I'm harder on myself than anyone else.
If we don't forgive ourselves, it has the same effect as not forgiving another person. It may have a more significant impact.
In our early years, we both dug into our respective positions on various things. As the years passed and we faced life's challenges, communication became more natural.
We've had some difficult financial times over the years. Some have been from our own mistakes. Some came from things outside our control.
Crisis situations force you to talk. If you do it healthily, it can strengthen your marriage. That's been true for us. But it wasn't always that way.
Money has been a significant area of conflict at times. We didn't always follow the three communication fundamentals laid out here. Fortunately, we learned them in time. We still have our moments. But because of the work we've done over the years, money is usually not a part of those moments.
Listen, compromise, and forgive. It's a formula for success when talking about money or any other area of conflict.
Now it's your turn. Are there areas of disagreements about money in your marriage? If so, how do you work through them? Let me know in the comments below.