Written by: Meghan Emerson, MSMFT
Joining finances with another person is a very intimate process, and many partners are unprepared for this transition following marriage. Money is one of the most frequent categories of couple conflict and also one of the most detrimental, tending to last longer and be experienced more harshly than other types of conflict. This is an unfortunate pattern given that discussions of money are inevitable in relationships, and they cannot be avoided or subverted forever.
Our financial beliefs often stem from our goals of security vs. risk, power vs. helplessness, and success vs. failure. This can lead to a variety of power struggles in a budding marriage. When both partners are money avoidant, they may struggle to develop leadership regarding financial decisions and priorities. If both partners value control, they may struggle to share financial responsibilities. While it is okay not to share the same financial belief system as your partner, it can lead to frequent conflict if you and your partner are not able to talk openly or address the underlying issues being triggered by financial needs.
To set up yourself for success in merging finances in your relationship, it is important to keep the following in mind.
1. Communicate openly.
Talking about finances can be difficult because money matters often trigger underlying vulnerabilities, such as shame or a fear of being seen as a failure. This leads many people to avoid discussing finances prior to marriage, and then partners are at a loss for how to handle the merger. Be upfront with your partner about your financial goals and expectations. If you do not currently have financial goals, try to assess what money means to you and how you would like to use it. What percentage of your income would you like you and your partner to put into savings? What expenditures would you like your partner to discuss with you before purchasing?
To talk about finances, you need a safe environment free of judgment and criticism. You and your partner will differ in financial belief systems, and that is okay. If you find yourself repeatedly struggling to have a productive discussion with your partner about finances, consider consulting with a financial planner or seeing a financial therapist.
2. Be willing to collaborate.
Whether you like to have control or are turned off by anything related to your financial situation, it is important to meet your partner at the table. Sharing different financial beliefs does not mean one partner is right and the other is wrong. By communicating openly, you can better understand why your partner feels a certain way and then work to find a strategy that is comfortable for both of you. Even if you choose to have a personal account separate from the relational pool, that decision still requires openness and collaboration, not to mention discussion of how to manage the shared family account.
3. Educate yourself.
There is little effective financial education in place in schools or the workplace. Partners tend to enter relationships with only the beliefs and experiences handed down from their families. Be proactive in educating yourself on your financial options and goals. If your partner is more financially educated than you, have him or her share their experience with you, and vice versa. Even if you are money avoidant and your partner is happy with having the control over finances, it is important for you to stay educated and aware of the financial situation in your relationship. Lack of awareness can lead to more serious relational issues, such as financial infidelity or coercion.
As you become more familiar with your financial opportunities and values, you will communicate and plan more efficiently in your marriage. You and your partner will be able to compromise and avoid conflicts around financial control when you both feel aware of the financial situation and acknowledge each other’s desires.