Published June 21, 2013
Love is blind, so it’s said, but it might also be mute when it comes to money discussions.
Couples rarely talk finances during, or even before, their engagement, according to experts, but to increase the odds of making happily ever after a reality, talking about finances needs to be done prior to saying “I do.”
According to a recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) poll, discussions about take-home pay, debt-load or credit scores are often overlooked by couples. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents hold negative attitudes toward discussing money with their fiancé, the poll says.
Talking about money can be uncomfortable and can likely lead to a fight or reveal financial issues they weren’t aware of, respondents admit, making them shy away from the talk. Another 5% say it could well cause them to call off the wedding.
Talking frankly about money and financial planning can help couples from becoming part of the 50% of marriages that end in divorce and might well be worth that 5% risk, says KoonsFuller family law and divorce attorney Sherri Evans, chair of the family law section of the state bar of Texas.
While money can’t be blamed as the sole cause of divorces, experts agree it is often at the core of marital issues.
“It’s fascinating that couples get naked before they get married but not reveal their financial circumstances,” says Susan Reach Winters, a family law and divorce attorney at Budd Larner. “Despite the high divorce rate, people don’t think.”
Meshing Money Personalities
How you’re financially wired makes a huge difference on how money will be handled in the partnerships. Individuals may hold different attitudes about spending and saving and a marriage between a tight-wad and a spendthrift could be headed for disaster, says NFCC’s Gail Cunningham.
Couples may be so in love they are willing to look the other way over money differences, but they will eventually surface. “They say ‘everyone’s dysfunctional; I can live with dysfunction.’ We can figure out a way to co-exist,’” Cunningham says.
The person who saves versus one who spends has a different set of expectations and goals, claims Evans. The young lawyer who wines and dines people to bring in clients may spend like crazy and is okay with working until she’s 75. But what happens if her husband makes a nice living and actively puts money aside to leave the workforce early? “Whose American dream are we talking about anyway?” claims Evans. “A couple should have the same dreams and the same expectations.”
How to Start the Money Talk Flow
People want to get married, says Winters, and don’t want to acknowledge any potential red flags. Clients often say: “I saw the warning signs,” then admit they thought they could have changed their future mate.
“Couples are in the early rush of new hormones and believe they’ve finally found someone who understands them,” says Dr. Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. “But the realities of life are different.”
We put a lot of emotion into it, when we need to use business skills and do the math, says Tessina. “Most couples know how to talk to their bosses about money.”
Couples also avoid talking about money over fears of insulting the other, according to Winters. “It’s not until years later when they’re sitting in front of a divorce lawyer that they start talking about financial infidelity.”
Financial infidelity constitutes withholding any financial information—whether it’s a large bill from a shopping spree, to excessive credit card debt or a hidden gambling habit. “People who get into deep debt are often in deep denial, says Tessina. “They pretend debt doesn’t exist in their own head—never mind telling their potential life partner.”
Winters and Evans also advocate prenuptial agreements to help protect personal assets coming into a relationship. Prenups are often frowned upon for favoring one partner, but the duo emphasizes these premarital agreements can help both parties by forcing them to face and think through potentially challenging future life issues like staying home to raise children or sending them to daycare, helping aging parents or other relatives in financial need, building a retirement nest egg or ownership rights of certain inherited assets like a family business.
Couples have to realize life gets harder, not easier after they walk down the aisle, says Evans. Early on, they may need to pay off a little credit card debt or a small student loan. “That’s a simple discussion, but it’s not so simple if you start at the end and work backwards.”
Here are some tips for a pre wedding money talk:
Set a convenient time to talk. Don’t spring the conversation on the other party.
Talk to a credit or financial counselor. Bring pay checks, credit reports, student loan obligations and forthrightness to the meeting so you can work up a budget.
Respect each other’s opinions and concerns. Pointing the finger of blame is counterproductive and a real conversation stopper.
Probe to understand financial attitudes. How your partner’s parents addressed money issues will either coincide or conflict with your financial preferences and impact your future marriage. Habits ingrained since childhood are typically cemented for life, says Cunningham.
Talk turkey. Before you get to the wedding planning, let your partner in on your deal breakers, says Tessina. Then let him/her make the choice, “It may sound harsh, but you’ll protect yourself from being dragged down the hole later in life.”