The number one cause of divorce, according to experts and polls alike, is money. Even in good times, couples are likely to disagree on how to spend their earnings. But add in the stresses of a weak economy and job market or a lingering and expensive illness, and the atmosphere can become a pressure cooker. Under these kinds of stresses, your partner’s behavior may become unrecognizable to you. He or she may seem like a stranger.
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That makes it all that more important to talk about money in the early days of the relationship. It may sound crazy but actually exchanging financial records can help clarify expectations and set the stage for handling the inevitable financial issues that crop up later. If you know what your spouse makes, what they save for retirement, how they spend day to day, you are in a much better position to handle issues down the road. Develop financial goals together. How much money would you like to have saved by retirement? Are you saving for your kid’s college education together? How much? Planning together in such a way puts you in the same boat and makes you feel like a team – critical to overcoming financial problems down the road.
“It’s about perception,” says Dr. Jeff Gardere, a psychologist and professor. “If you view it as an impossible situation it will become one and may end up hurting the marriage. Instead, view it as an aspect of life that happens to almost everyone at some point and that the two of you must take it on together and resolve the problem.”
It’s essential to consider as a couple that financial emergencies will arise and to have savings that can see you through the normal problems every family faces. Facing job loss, for example, is a lot easier when you and your spouse have already had a conversation about the potential that it might happen, than considering the impacts for the first time when it does. Surprises aren’t fun. But if you can start the conversation by saying, “Well, we’ve already talked about this,” that can be calming.
Hitting a true rough patch like a serious illness requires that you reach out and tap all of your resources for help. Don’t suffer in silence. It’s worth telling your accountant, attorney and other family members if the medical bills are coming in hot and fast. There may be solutions that you personally aren’t aware of.
Gardere says, “Show faith and courage in your partner, yourself and your marriage as you go through the process. It will only prepare you and make you stronger for the next challenge you face in your marriage.”