It’s been a while since I’ve attended a wedding. This summer I was invited to three. There seems to have been an outbreak of post-pandemic pairing among the niece and nephew generation. Wedding ceremonies are all about love and commitment and the coming together of families. As I watched the couples exchange rings, I thought about how traditional wedding vows often include promises around money—for richer, for poorer; in plenty and in want.
Whether or not couples are talking about it at the altar, money and finances are woven into the fabric of marriage. Shared expenses and shared responsibilities require open conversations about priorities and the future. When couples find it difficult to talk about money, it can lead to financial and relationship problems.
Without a shared vision for what marriage looks like, each partner is guided by their own assumptions, perhaps based on the example of their parents. It’s easy to see the flaw in that logic. Not taking into account what your partner wants and expects can cause things to unravel. This is true for little things like loading the dishwasher, and it’s certainly true for big things like how much to spend on vacations when there’s debt to be paid and retirement to think about.
Money makes relationships
Money is considered one of the top stressors in marriage. But it’s not really the money. Money is often at the core of feelings about inequality, control, honesty, and values. So when one spouse says, “let’s talk about money,” the other is hearing, “I don’t trust you,” or “I question your decision making.” No wonder those conversations often go badly.
Thinking back on this summer’s crop of newlyweds, I imagine them sitting on a beach somewhere talking about their goals and aspirations for the future – what their life will be like now that they’re officially bonded. Every conversation they have, whether it’s about starting a family, establishing a household, or adventuring together, has a money component. And that, it turns out, is how to have the money conversation. Because it’s about adult choices being made in tandem with your life partner.
Nobody is saying it’s easy. It’s probably a little unfair to look back at magical honeymoon moments when a lot of the hard conversations about money happen decades later. By that time, couples have settled into a routine that both have accepted – for better or for worse. In fact, some may say it’s best not to rock the boat. And I would agree that it’s petty to complain about your spouse’s craft supply cabinet when they could easily point out the new addition in your collector figurine display. But there’s probably still room for the bigger discussions around legacy, retirement, and balancing work with fun.
Talking to your spouse about money
Having a way to talk about money also helps you prepare for those things you can’t prepare for, like disability or loss of income from a layoff or a job change. A mutual understanding of your financial situation allows you and your spouse to outline realistic objectives. Decision making can be easier when you already know what priorities you share. This allows you to say yes or no to opportunities without argument, resentment, or stress.
I’ve heard people advise couples to talk to a marriage counselor if they’re at a financial impasse. And certainly, if conversations have gotten that difficult it may be time for serious relationship help. Another avenue to consider, though, is a good sit-down with your financial planner. They’re not just number crunchers. Far from it. Your financial planner helps you match your goals with the reality of your financial situation. They’ll help you and your spouse prioritize investments, expenditures, and budgets. It’s a good way to have money conversations with less emotion and all the facts.
Questions to think about:
- Does talking about money make you anxious or agitated? Be open about it with your spouse and focus instead on discussing your shared vision of the future.
- Are you concerned about lack of trust or misaligned goals in your marriage? Some issues may require the help of a marriage counselor.
- Is there a wedding in your family’s future? Consider gifting the couple a financial plan.
- If you have difficulty talking about money, try first writing down what’s important to you. Ask yourself which issues are most likely to trigger your spouse.
- If you have children, find ways to involve them in money discussions in age-appropriate ways.
- Before you meet with your financial planner, you can prepare them ahead of time with a list of the biggest financial sticking points in your marriage.
The foregoing content reflects the opinions of Liz Behlke and is subject to change at any time without notice. Content provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be used or construed as investment advice or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of any security. There is no guarantee that the statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Indices are not available for direct investment. Any investor who attempts to mimic the performance of an index would incur fees and expenses which would reduce returns Securities investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no assurance that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.