Are you finding yourself having the same money problems over and over again in your marriage? Tired of fighting with your significant other about money? Well, you are not alone. Money problems consistently ranks as one of the top reasons marriages end in divorce.
This should not be surprising to anyone. The big priorities of life such as shelter, food, transportation, careers, education, healthcare and retirement all have money affixed to them as a central core element. Whenever a major life decision has to be made it almost always involves money.
Then when all the minor day-to-day decisions get thrown into the mix, it becomes clear money is at the core of almost everything we do.
I’ll admit when I first got married I wasn’t prepared for the challenges money decisions would create. I thought we could just out-earn whatever expenditures we wanted to have. The more money we could make the more we could get. I thought, “Money problems? We’ll never have them.”
Nor was I prepared for how each of us would bring into the relationship different backgrounds, personalities or opinions. Money is enough to create problems in and of itself. Mix in those three variables and a marriage could be headed for a host of money problems.
The more conflict that comes with money problems, the more discouraged couples get. Every discussion seems to lead into a fight with both parties not listening to the other and becoming more entrenched in their own beliefs. Before long, they are questioning whether or not they are meant for one another.
It’s such a common scenario but it doesn’t have to be this way. Couples can take steps to solve their money problems and live in harmony together.
Steps to Cure the Money Problems
While I never reached the point that I questioned our marriage, my wife and I have had our share of money problems to work through. Here is the path we took to develop oneness and create deep bonds of intimacy in our marriage.
Step #1: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communicating as a couple is the critical first step that will lead to solve money problems. Some of you don’t want to hear this because all that happens when you talk is that it leads to a fight. Who wants more of that?
Well, you can’t stop talking about your money problems because that will only lead to more problems. What’s needed is to shift the dynamic. Instead of talking being the focus, think about communicating.
We all love to talk about ourselves. We would rather share things that are important to us instead of listening to someone else. Talking comes easy…listening doesn’t. But listening is the essence of proper communication.
When we talk our selfishness often gets in the way. We believe our opinions are the only ones that matter. When others pick up on that it creates tension. The other party doesn’t feel as though their voice is being heard.
When people truly communicate, they are less focused on themselves. They are in tune with what the other person is saying. They listen and understand opposite points of view and consider them to be equally as valid as their own. When this happens talking about money problems becomes much more productive.
I experienced this for years in my own relationship. My wife would often share how our expenses were routinely exceeding our monthly income. I did not clue into the feelings of frustration and anxiety that were subtly being expressed. I didn’t think we had a problem so therefore wasn’t listening.
It took some time for me to realize how this was affecting her. She felt insecure because we weren’t saving any money each month. Her insecurity was also being seen in that I wasn’t partnering with her to solve the problem. She was trying to do it all alone and I wasn’t on board. My overspending and lack of caring was creating tension that didn’t need to be there.
So what changed? Well, I thank God that one day I became convicted of my spending habits. Had I not, we would still be a mess to this day.
That’s what it’s going to take in your relationship. One or both of you is going to have to see the light for the money problems in your marriage to be solved.
When that change took place we began to communicate at a deeper level. Those first steps at communication weren’t easy. We each had personal baggage to talk through. But once we decided to work together, our money problems began to diminish.
What helped us in those early stages was focusing on three areas in our discussions:
1. Our Values. Values are what’s important to you. One of you may value being frugal and feeling financially secure. The other may value buying things of quality and living in the moment. Those values are on track to clash with one another.
The important thing is that no one value is right or wrong per se. Your values are not automatically better than your partner’s values. Marriage is a 50-50 proposition and you both have a say in what happens.
We reached the point where we understood what motivated and drove the other person. Once we understood that about each other, we were able to find some common ground on which to build.
2. Our Goals. Values reveal what a person believes. Goals target a specific future outcome. Values are the starting point…goals are the endgame.
Once we understood our values, we were able to translate those into actual goals for our money. We would dream of where we wanted to be 5, 10 and 25 years down the road. We figured out what it would cost us to get there, put a plan in place and started to move it that direction.
The best part was that we were moving hand-in-hand. We were working together in harmony, pooling all our emotional and physical resources to reach the goal.
Did we always reach the goal? No. But the journey towards whatever we were trying to achieve was a lot more enjoyable.
3. Our Feelings. Sharing feelings might be the biggest communication challenge. It forces us to open up and reveal what’s inside. Sometimes those are deep emotions that create vulnerability and make us feel out of control.
It’s also complicated when you start talking about the differences in how men and women share and deal with feelings. Men tend to bottle feelings up and hold them in until it becomes too much. Then we explode, which usually results in conflict.
Women share feelings all the time which men can’t handle. We get overwhelmed at the “feelings dump” and don’t want to listen anymore. Consequently, when women see this they will quit sharing with us. Then they will find another outlet for their feelings.
Despite the differences, it’s healthy for couples to routinely share that they are scared, confused, hurt or angry about money problems. It’s important to share without coming across as being accusatory. Using phrases such as, “I feel (emotion) when you (action)” is better than saying, “You don’t care” or “It’s all your fault.”
Admission of feelings linked to the money problems will demonstrate to your partner how actions affect you. This makes it more about the action and not them personally.
Once my wife and I came together on our values, goals and feelings, we were ready to tackle the next big battle. Don’t move forward to Step #2 until you’ve addressed Step #1. The effort you put in communicating what’s important will play a critical role in the next step.
Step #2: Budgeting
Our money problems didn’t change just because we communicated our values, goals and feelings. We knew there had to be actions steps for there to be real change.
Actions steps are important because they help cement the bonds formed in the discussion stage. We can say all day long we want to do something. Until we actually take the steps to start though, we haven’t shown any real commitment to change. For your money problems, that very first step has to be learning how to make and live on a budget or some form of written spending plan.
Most people have had terrible experiences with a budget. They have come up with a host of excuses as to why they don’t need one. They are essential though if marriages are going to experience a breakthrough.
What most people don’t understand is that budgets are about both restrictions and freedom. There are restrictions on how much you can spend. But budgets are also about freedom to spend on whatever you want. If you want to blow half your month’s salary on tickets to the Super Bowl, you are more than able to do that…providing you both agree.
My wife and I attempted for years to write a budget. For many reasons ours never worked. It was mostly my fault because I wasn’t following it. My wife would prepare it and then I’d go spend whatever I wanted.
That all changed when we started working together on it. When I saw the numbers going into the various categories, something triggered in my brain. It was though I had been given a bunch of mini goals, a number in each category that I couldn’t exceed unless we talked about it. I began to view it as a spending competition with myself.
The budget steps we followed went something like this:
First, My wife would draw up the budget. She would write down before the month began, all the numbers are for income and spending for that month. We used an Excel spreadsheet like this one to keep track of all the numbers.
Then we would sit down in a budget meeting and talk about the numbers. That meeting had four phases:
- She would present the budget to me and remain quiet as I looked over it. I’d ask questions as needed.
- I would change at least one thing. This created involvement on my part and eliminated my ability to solely blame her for the numbers in the budget.
- We agreed on the adjustments and recalculated the numbers in the other categories to account for the changes.
- We’d then solemnly swear to live on the budget numbers for that month. If any changes or emergencies happened during the month, we’d come back and revisit the numbers.
I’m not going to lie to you. Those first months were tough. Our money problems didn’t go away immediately.
We were always forgetting to put something in our budget. Or something unexpected would come up. We’d always have to come back together for another budget meeting and move money around the spending categories to account for the situation. It was frustrating.
But what we found was amazing. Working together in those crisis times actually created more oneness and communication in our marriage. We talked more. We were more engaged with each other. We grew to love and respect each other in deeper ways.
It took us about 4-5 months for the budget to really get clicking. In that time, our mutual tension about the budget subsided and we started to see some small victories over our money problems. Success began to breed more success and we got excited about reaching some of our financial goals.
Since I was the one who had been most responsible for our poor spending habits I did encounter some initial failures. But I did have my one moment where it all clicked for me. It was a drawing-a-line-in-the-sand moment and it happened over of all things shopping for a pair of shoes.
It’s a funny story that I really think is relatable to what people who love to spend money experience while shopping. More importantly, it’s when I really began to see the value of budgets. From then on, I was 100% on board.
Step #3: Security and Planning the Future
We were making such progress to ending our money problems. We’d checked off so many of the important variables couples struggle with:
- Goals and values shared in open and honest communication – Check.
- Strong connections being built though sharing feelings – Check.
- Budget in solid working order after months of trial and error – Check.
- Spending habits being altered by focus and discipline – Check.
But it wasn’t enough. Something was still there that kept us from moving forward like we hoped. So one day with our momentum stalled, we decided to take a step backwards to Step One. During our time of communication this is what I heard my wife say,
“I need to feel secure.”
What she was talking about, financially speaking, was having enough money set aside to weather any financial storm that might come our way. Sure we had our monthly money problems pretty much tackled but what if an emergency happened? What if the car broke down, or I got sick and couldn’t work or God forbid that one of us should die? Were we prepared for the type of money problems those events could cause?
The answer was “No.”
What she needed were some guardrails put in place to keep us on the road to financial freedom – which was one of our goals set in step one.
A budget started the forming of those guardrails but it wasn’t enough. What we needed were some financial moves that would make us feel – make my wife feel – more secure. So we set out to accomplish four things:
- Build a fully funded emergency savings fund. I realized having three to six months of emergency expenses set aside in a savings account made my wife sleep better at night. No worrying about if money would be available to fix whatever breaks down. That emergency savings fund was an investment in our emotional health.
- Getting rid of all our debt. Debt brings risk. The more you have the more you are open to money problems. You just can’t keep carrying it year after year if you want to move ahead financially. You’ll have to put a plan in place to get out of debt as soon as your finances allow.
- Preparing for retirement. It became apparent that we couldn’t just save and invest our money without a plan. Specific money had to be designated solely for us in our later years. We knew we had to start right away. No waiting until our 50s to start thinking about funding retirement.
- A Dramatic Career Change. With some of the safety guardrails in place, the Mrs. set out on a dramatic career change. Some money problems can’t be solved just by saving money and spending less. Sometimes you have to go out and earn more to reach your goals.
That decision could never have come early in the process of solving our money problems. We would not have been emotionally ready for the intensive, three-year journey to a new career. Had I still been wildly spending every dollar, she would have been hesitant to commit the financial and emotional resources to such a bold move.
Enjoying the Ride
There does not need to be constant fighting over money problems in your relationship. It will take coming together and committing to the steps I’ve outlined. It will take humility, sacrifice, patience and will-power.
No one person can run your family finances. The responsibility must be shared.
Once you have the plan in place it requires that you stick to it – maybe for the long haul. Your money problems aren’t going away overnight. Not every step along the way will be easy. But if you work the process and give it time, you will eventually be able to enjoy the ride.
Questions: How have you overcome money problems in your relationship? What was the biggest single step you took? How has your life changed for the better as you’ve worked through your financial challenges?