Cash Conversations Create Better Marriages

By, Meredith Jenkins

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Money is one of those taboo topics that you’re not really supposed to talk about—kind of like politics and religion at the dinner table. However, when it comes to marriage, the couple that pays together, stays together. What does this mean? Research has shown that couples who are in sync when it comes to budgeting and saving feel more financially secure, argue less about money and even have better sex lives. In short, getting in sync with your spouse about money matters can lead to greater financial stability and increase the chances that you both will experience a happy and enduring marriage.

Here are four tips to help loving couples have challenging conversations about money.

1.)   Get naked with each other—financially speaking.

I don’t mean get naked and throw greenbacks at each other (unless, that’s your thing). I mean you both should open up about your finances—your salaries, savings, credit card debt, student loans, etc. Knowing where each of you stands and having conversations about what you want to achieve together builds a sense of trust and teamwork. Sadly, few married couples practice financial transparency. A recent American Express poll found that 91% of people avoid having money talks with their partner. Even worse, the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 1 in 3 Americans acknowledges lying to their partner about money. No bueno.

How to Do It: Have the difficult financial conversations during a happy moment. Keep the conversation upbeat. Crack open a bottle of wine. Put all of your assets and liabilities on the table. Use an online net-worth calculator like Bankerate.com or an Excel spreadsheet and update your numbers quarterly. Make a list of monthly expenses. Review credit card and bank statements so you know where your funds are going. Learn what the other “must” have versus what they’d “like” to have. Be honest with each other. Upload your accounts to an online money management tool like Quicken or Mint. Set financial goals together, but narrow your objectives to three and make a viable plan to achieve them.

2.)   Confront the Biggest Source of Tension

Here is a startling statistic from Money magazine: 70% of couples argue over money related issues—more than they argue about household chores, sex or snoring. Moreover, according to Jeffrey Dew, an associate professor at Utah State University, fights about finances are the only common spats that directly correlate to divorce. Couples who fight over money weekly are 52% more likely to divorce than those that argue about finances once a month. Yikes! What’s the most common source of financial tension? Spending too much on frivolous things AND ALSO a partner’s frugality. This tension needs to be addressed.

How to Do It: Give each other space when it comes to the smaller things. If you feel like your partner is watching your spending habits like a hawk, you’re more likely to hide purchases from them—which, only leads to mistrust, financial insecurity and, possibly, divorce. Perhaps you should take a lesson from millennials and boomers: 54% of millennials and 51% of boomers think spouses should keep some money separate. This allows each partner to feel a sense of financial freedom. But, be sure to set spending limits for yourselves! This is especially true when it comes to joint accounts. Also, be sure to audit yourself and do so honestly. If things get tight, you’ll need to know why and honestly address that issue with your spouse. Better to keep things open and honest from the beginning to avoid any elephants from entering the room.

3.)   Don’t let silence become the default.

In any relationship, debt can be a silent killer. Studies have found that marital satisfaction is correlated with assets. This means that as debt increases, happiness wanes. But there is a light at the end of this financial tunnel… and it’s not an oncoming train! Couples who experience success in paying down debt begin to see their partners in a better light and this leads to fewer arguments and more happiness.

How to Do It: Got a lot of debt? Create a pay-down plan together. Studies show that properly managing debt repayment makes for healthier relationships. When it comes to credit card debt, pay the cards off that have the highest interest rate first, then move to other cards. Again, honesty and transparency are absolutely critical when it comes to financial conversations.

4.)   Don’t let small arguments escalate into massive fights.

No matter how financially organized you and your partner become, you’ll still have the occasional argument about money. The worst thing you can do is to not talk about a problem. Also, if you do address a source of conflict, make sure you don’t leave it unresolved. Ask yourself this: Do you want to be right, OR do you want to build a strong financial union with your partner? The latter takes open communication and compromise. Remember, compromise is not a four-letter word.

How to Do It: If you have a spat, don’t wait more than 24 hours before reconvening to settle the issue in a civil manner. Before you get back together to discuss the argument with cooler heads, each of you should write down what money worries prompted the fight. When you reconvene, one person should talk uninterrupted about their financial fears (without assigning blame). The other should then repeat back what was said to ensure that the message was clearly conveyed and understood. Then switch roles, rinse and repeat.

When it comes to marriages, money matters. While you shouldn’t let money dictate your marriage, you need to have open, honest and regular conversations about finances with your spouse. Doing so will make your marriage more fruitful and make each of you a happier spouse.

This story could not have been possible without Time magazine and authors Dan Kadlec and Kerri Anne Renzulli.