My wife and I will celebrate 11 years of marriage this month. Let us all congratulate her on being patient in suffering as she continues to hang on to my promise that the best is yet to come. Some people run marathons or hike through many miles of difficult terrain to find their true selves through pain and endurance. My wife? Well, she married me. We both agree that the last 11 years have been a big learning experience for both of us… mainly me. I am finding out that part of the beauty of marriage is that you get to exist with a person that is not you. Genius, right!? No matter how close you are or how similar your interests; your spouse is still a different person. And when it comes to marriage and finances, these differences show up even more strongly.
Money plays a bigger role than you think
Essentially, we bring in our values and the way we do things as individuals into a union with another person when we get married. Money plays a role in shaping the joint agenda. While money is just an inanimate object or concept, given the opportunity it can push our subjective interests and values on to others. To put it another way: Money gives us power to leverage ourselves. Without common goals or communication, we can wield that power at the peril of the one we say we love the most.
Perception is everything
For example: early in our marriage, I was so paranoid that she would spend too much money (she didn’t, hence the paranoid part) so I would pull up the bank statements and quiz her on each purchase. To fellow analytical budgeters out there — this is good practice and necessary to stay on track with your fiscal goals. The more empathic of us, though, probably already cried out in despair! That sounds like an inquisition, right? My actions inferred that I didn’t trust my wife to have our best interests at heart when she walked into Publix. My wife cares as much for the family’s well-being as I do. I was just focused so sharply on one area — the finances — and she perceived this in a different way than I had intended.
Trust and openness are key
What I mean here is: Instead of designing joint financial goals, giving her the ability to exist in that space, and trusting her — I had done the complete opposite. I would communicate what I wanted without really consulting her first. I would “give” her an amount to spend that may not have been realistic to achieve success. Even worse, my relentless questioning was hinting at distrust and not what I was really feeling: concern for our family’s financial well-being. Eventually I did become able to communicate this properly, but it would take years of this same circle of pain for me to learn how.
We’re all different, but communication issues affect us all
Remember though, the same story plays out for many – not just oppressive budgeters. Maybe you’re throwing any budget that might have existed to the wind, spending whenever and wherever. Or maybe you’re indifferent to any financial plan because it doesn’t catch your interest; it seems your spouse has it under control. Your spouse could be caught in the wake of your recklessness. Plus, you could be communicating a complete lack of care for the ones you love by not taking part in the plan – whether you’re stingy or spendy.
Because I just can’t close a blog without offering a little advice:
4 Steps to Marital Budgeting Bliss (Or Holland’s Tips for Pain Avoidance)
- Talk openly about your financial goals and issues. What is going well, and what could be improved?
- Discuss about what you want to achieve together. Then create the plan… together. The plan should be realistic and based on your current income and expenses.
- Stick to the plan and continue to work as a team. You’ll need to communicate along the way; consider setting up regular “budget meetings.”
- No matter how shiny the object of your desire, do not go rogue with spending! Remember: transparency is key when it comes to marriage and finance.
If you’re looking for more advice I’m here to help, either as financial advisor or just “advisor”!
Also, if you have any funny stories about marital budgeting bliss (or pain!) that you’d like to share, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.