Is the current state of the economy affecting your marriage? Do you find you and your spouse fighting more these days over money? If you do, you're not alone. At least 60% of couples argue over money at least once a month, according to a survey sponsored by PayPal.
Despite the "for richer or for poorer" vows couples take, one of the primary reasons marriages fail has to do with conflicts over money. In these difficult economic times, it may be time to start taking some definite positive actions to keep your marriage or relationship from going bankrupt.
Why couples fight about money
Understand that how we feel about money has more to do with your own childhood, background, and values than it does with your spouse or your relationship.
Money is one of life's more emotional triggers. Often it is tied to our feelings of self-worth and the role it plays in how much control we feel we have in living our lives. In this regard, it can be tied to such deep-seated issues as feeling loved, competence, acceptance, safety, and empowerment.
Because these feelings linger beneath the surface, they're not easy to talk about. Conflicts could come out in fights with each other over too much spending, or finding out about secret bank accounts or late payments of bills that erode credit scores.
It's important if one or all of these situations are occurring in your marriage or relationship that you and your partner talk about it.
Try to focus on the behaviors that are getting you into even more problems, such as failing to make even a minimum credit card payment because you're in denial about how big the balance has become. Talk about what's going on. If necessary, suggest taking over bill paying if you are having less of a problem dealing with your reality than your spouse seems to be having.
These conflicts over money including how much to save or spend are issues that are often concealed when times are going well financially.
There's no need to discuss what to spend when you have lots of money. You just spend it. There's no need to discuss how much to save when you have a job that automatically puts a portion of your salary into a retirement fund.
These issues only come up when the money is disappearing faster than you're earning it or you've lost that full-time job with benefits and now you're working part-time or for a company that is not automatically contributing into a savings plan.
Here are some warning signs that you or your spouse have a money problem that. without addressing it and working on it together, with or without the help of a trained counselor, could eat away at your marriage:
• Are you discovering large expenses on your spouse's credit card bill that he or she has been hiding from you?
• Have you or your spouse started paying only the minimum on your credit cards, piling more and more debt, while still continuing to charge new purchases to those cards?
• Are you or your spouse opening up multiple credit card accounts to keep up your spending beyond your means rather than deal with the necessary cutbacks that you have to start making during tough times?
• Do you or your spouse buy yourself or each other lavish gifts that you can't afford because you equate material items with love?
• Have you or your spouse had an increase in insomnia, over-eating, losing your appetite, or are either of you stressed out over money related issues?
• Have you or your spouse found yourself avoiding going out at all because you feel you can't afford it?
• Have you or your spouse said "no" to romantic intimacy more than once recently because one or both of you were too upset over financial matters?
• If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you have to take a serious and hard look at how money is negatively impacting not only your marriage but on your mental health.
Dealing with issues
There is no one way to deal with the money crisis that couples are facing today. Of course every situation is unique and different. But there are some general principles that will help you regardless of the specifics of your situation.
For starters, the key is communication with each other and having an open attitude that you are both going to work together to resolve this money challenge. Here are some possible steps you could take:
• See the current economic crisis as a gift. That may be hard to believe when you think you may lose your house or have your car repossessed. But look at it as an opportunity to discuss with your partner how you're going to handle it. Ask for some suggestions since your partner might have ideas about solving your dilemma that you have not even considered.
• Stop hiding how much you owe and how much you're spending despite your economic problems. Take all your credit card bills out and make a list of what you currently owe on each card, the interest on each card, and then come with a plan to pay each one off.
• If you or your partner have a problem with debt, have a card cutting party. Join Debtors Anonymous and stop using credit cards altogether. Then pay off the debts in as timely a manner as possible. Keep in mind that money is often a metaphor in marital conflicts so talking about with a therapist may be helpful. That will enable both of you to talk about what money means to you and how you can try to make the present and future better.
• As a couple, agree on what you realistically can spend each month and create a budget that you try to really stick to. Make sure you include in your budget at least some funds for going out and having fun even if it's not going to be extravagant or expensive.
• Communicate with each other about what you're spending money on if it's a big ticket item. Don't start over-spending and hiding that from each other. Those secrets can start to eat away at your trust and intimacy as much as the excess spending in these lean times can set you back financially.
• Decide together on any major purchases to make sure you both agree that this is the right time to make that investment. Through your discussion you might decide it's better to wait a while or maybe you will agree it's something to put off indefinitely.
• Don't play the blame game. The economic downturn is hitting everyone so the economic down turn youre going through isn't because of something either you or your spouse has done. Use this tough situation to recommit to each other on a deeper, non-materialistic level. Since you probably can't buy each other big ticket items for a while, use your imagination and creativity to find inexpensive but memorable ways to express your love and appreciation for each other.
• And finally, if you still can't come to an agreement over money, see a financial advisor or a credit counselor to get some help. It's a positive step that could help you avoid the emotional angst or the financial toll of having to hire a divorce lawyer.
Maybe you can't afford to fly off for the weekend to Madrid, but you can afford to go out to a local free music event that your community is sponsoring, take a walk on the beach, or around your cul de sac.
If you have several cars and you have to give up one, look at it as an opportunity to spend more time with your partner as you car pool to work or the train together. And if you have children, get them involved with the joys of spending less money as well.
Remember the expression "The best things in life are free?" Say that to yourself and to your spouse and say it often.
Unless you're an heiress or a prince, you probably started out as a couple without a lot of money. Many couples will say that those days when they were struggling financially were the best times in their relationship as they worked together to build their future together. During those lean times, you had to find ways just to enjoy being with each other.
Even though you're older now, you can put that joy of working together for your future into your relationship again as you together recover from the economic downturn that is having such a dramatic impact on so many today.