Is Coexisting in a Marriage Possible?

coexisting in a marriage
Jale Ibrak/

Can you guess one of the leading causes of divorce in this country?

There are a whole slew of reasons, as you know, but financial incompatibility is a big one.

Misaligned goals can be a major problem.

If she’s a saver and he’s a spender, or if she buys on credit and he believes in saving up for big-ticket items, there’s no question that over time, financial conflicts can lead to divorce.

The overarching theme here is that Americans have a spending problem. U.S. consumer debt reaches into the trillions, and it’s no surprise then that a million people or more declare bankruptcy in the United States every single year.

Think about your own situation. Do you have a car that you make payments on, or maybe you lease a BMW every year? Do you have a big house with a giant mortgage? Have you taken out a boat or RV loan?

I’m not saying that any of those things are bad, it’s just a fact that it all adds up over time. And when you add to it the regular expenses of everyday life: Groceries, private school tuition, car insurance, dance lessons for the kids, dentist bills… Gosh, it’s no wonder marriages are stressed.

Why married couples argue about money

Unfortunately, what both of you probably learned about money was different growing up. Maybe your spouse’s parents fought about money all the time when he was a kid. Maybe the anguish he experienced as a child over “not having enough” drives his compulsion to spend every penny he earns, now that he’s earning a lot of it.

Maybe you grew up in a household where you never, ever heard your parents talk about money–not once. So maybe you have no idea how to have a conversation with your spouse about his spending issues.

There are so many scenarios and so many reasons why it’s no wonder there is incompatibility, to begin with. After all, are financial goals and money management taught in schools?

As you know, the answer to that is a sad, unfortunate no.

You both likely have different values, upbringings, and views on how to spend money. So, without spending a ton of money sitting in a psychologist’s office to get to the root of the problem, there’s a way to get on the same page.

Actually, in a way, you can both give yourselves a bit of a break. If all the information you’ve gotten over the years came from your parents, friends and a bit of what’s on TV and the internet, you’re not alone.

If you’ve met with a financial advisor who’s ironed most of it out for you, good for you. Even then, don’t be surprised if you still both tend to slightly differ when it comes down to making decisions about what to do with it all.

Money and marriage coexisting

Is Coexisting Possible and How You Can Get on the Same Page

Even for those who are real money-management professionals, figuring out where to put your money and how to do it can still be a challenge.

Even if you’re both well-educated about money management, there can still be lingering questions about which bucket to stuff your cash in the retirement bucket, the kids’ college fund bucket, the vacation bucket. You might believe that your kids’ college fund is underfunded, your spouse might think you need to boost the vacation fund. And you both may think the retirement fund needs to get bigger… quick.

The reality is that there’s only so much money, and everywhere you turn, it seems there’s another bucket. Take a deep breath and grab a piece of paper.

The most important thing is to (together!) write down your goals.

This helps solidify you both in your decision-making, and there’s just something about seeing your goals written down in big, bold letters that makes it that much easier for you to visualize, internalize and actually achieve.

This can look like:

  • Pay off the mortgage in 20 years instead of 30.
  • Save 10 percent of each of our paychecks for retirement.
  • Save for a trip to Aruba for our 15-year anniversary.
  • Save ($XXXX) per year for the kids’ college education.

Your list will look different from your next door neighbors’ list which will look different from your best couple friends’ list. And they should! Every couple has different goals.

The most important step is to write those goals down. Notice that “save for a trip” made it on the list. Do write down savings goals you have that will make life fun! Of course, it doesn’t have to be a trip. It can be “save for a new RV” or “save for a landscaping project that we both really, really want for our house.”

What if we have no idea what we should be writing down?

If you’re not sure what your goal list should contain, that’s your cue to educate yourselves. Mutually decide to check out a few books from the library about managing your assets. Decide together which financial advisor to meet within the town, or go talk to representatives from your workplaces. You can usually make appointments with reps throughout the year at work; just ask your human resources department.

They’ll help you understand your retirement options (including how much you should be investing) and help you with an overall financial snapshot. Doing this will help you add to your list, and help you sharpen and specifically target what you’d like to add to your list.

All the while, keep in the back of your mind what should be your ultimate goal: debt-free financial freedom.

Talk about it

Finally, after you make your list, talk about it. Talk about it with each other all the time.

Financially fit and savvy couples really do talk about finances a lot. Some even go on date nights to talk about their financial health. Seriously!

Talking about your goals as a couple will create a very special synergy. Ultimately, you’ll have a better chance of being happy together, at least in the financial department. In fact, it would be great if everyone in this country took time out before marriage to talk these things through. True, your goals will change over the course of your life, but each person’s view of money and expectations are likely vastly different before marriage even begins. It’s great to note these differences and tackle them head-on before they become a larger problem.

Good luck on the journey!

Melissa is a Midwesterner with a penchant for travel (the further away, the better!) and personal finance. Previously, she worked as a writer/editor for a gardening magazine and has done lots of writing and editing for publications. Now, she works in the admission office of her alma mater, Central College in Iowa. She has special interests in reading about finance and politics, and together with her husband, spends most of her time chasing after their two kiddos.

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