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Financial Control--Imbalances in Marriage

As is frequently reported, one of the major causes of divorce is disagreement over money.

Why is this? Isn’t money one of the topics couples discuss as they are getting serious with each other, along with other major life decisions such as wanting children and religion? Well...maybe, but talking about and the reality of finances are often two very different things.

Money often equates to having power and control. This can be actual or perceived power and control. In either case, this financial control imbalance is not only woven into the fabric of our society, but often commonly occurs at home within a marriage, and it has been this way for decades.

First of all there is the patriarchal system that has been prevalent in our society and culture that not only still allows men to earn more money than women in similar jobs, but reinforces the stereotype that it is the woman who takes on a greater role in child care and household responsibilities regardless of her income. This not only enables the husband more time and flexibility to earn a greater income, but creates an environment where the wife may feel beholden to him because he does.

Now let's bring us into the 21st century and simplify it, marriage (generally) consists of two people, one of whom is often bringing in more income than the other. It is rare that two married people make the same exact amount in two different jobs, although less rare if the couple is in business together bringing home equal amounts for the household. So how does this equate to financial control in a marriage?

The person who makes less or perhaps no money in the relationship might experience feelings of guilt when spending money they feel they didn’t directly earn. Oftentimes it is the “breadwinner” that makes the more financially heavy decisions in the family, from investments, to IRA’s to budgeting for big ticket items. Sometimes the person at home might be more involved in the day to day responsibility of setting up a household budget and paying the bills. However the financial responsibilities may be divided, when it comes to finances, the most important thing in a marriage is communication. Lack of communication, when there is a financial imbalance in the relationship can lead to arguments, grudges, and insecurities. Understandably, one partner might have more financial aptitude than the other, but as long as there is transparency in the relationship, most of the conflict can be avoided.

Many of us grew up in households where money was a taboo subject to talk about. It is time to break that barrier. Both partners in a marriage need to sit down at the table together, look at your financial health, create budgets, discuss your financial fears, and get excited about planning for the bigger ticket items and vacations together. Sit at the computer together. Each person needs to know where their money is and how it is being spent or saved. Whoever has a greater understanding of the finances in the household needs to be an educator and create a safe environment for their spouse to ask questions without fear of judgement. Likewise, the spouse should want to understand and ask questions, regardless of how hard that might be for them. Enjoy the money you are earning together, no matter who is the “breadwinner.” Constant support, communication and appreciation for what each person brings to the relationship, financially and otherwise will help alleviate many of the concerns and arguments down the road. Perhaps together you will not only feel comfortable with conversations about your finances for yourselves, but when there are children present you will also be setting an example of how to balance money in a marriage and hopefully break the perception that discussions about money should not happen.

Written by Aaron D. Lieberman, CFP, CDFA

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