There are five financial issues that can take down a marriage – reduced circumstances, financial mistakes, caring for parents, caring for kids, and uncertainty – according to Ron Leiber, “Your Money” columnist of the New York Times. These are truly issues that affect every marriage at some point, and I thought that they warranted a little more coverage.
Reduced Circumstances: Although some people may be disappointed over the reduction in lifestyle thanks to a layoff or change of interest rate, consider how dividing up a household doesn’t reduce costs. Getting divorced will now mean that, however you and your spouse are dividing assets and responsibilities, you’re supporting two households on the same income that used to support one. Even if you have a peaceful and inexpensive divorce, it definitely does not improve reduced resources.
It might be that problem is that you were unhappy and unfulfilled in the marriage, but you stayed because of the money. Sometimes it’s easier to Spackle over problems with money than to address them. You might be thinking “I want to leave this marriage” and then balked at the tumult of taking the kids out of private school, foregoing that trip to Hawaii each year, and downsizing your car. If reduced circumstances have already stripped those things away, maybe you’ve just cleared the path to divorce.
In that case, more financial security created the problem by being a motivator for staying in an unhappy marriage, and losing those ties helped reveal the real issues.
Your Mistakes: The mistake is really that you didn’t have the difficult conversations early. I can’t tell you the number of people who come in who have railed through their home equity line of credit because they didn’t have the heart to tell their spouse to stop shopping at Fred Segal. But the discussion doesn’t revolve around the details. It needs to be a dialogue that you are both engaged in. “I want to share with you the home equity line of credit statement (or charge cards, etc). I am concerned that we are over spending. What do you think we should do?” Have the conversation as a series of “I” statements (as opposed to “you should”) and a question to open up the discussion.
The other big fight we see is “We agreed you would go back to work after the kids went to school and then you never did.”
To turn the conversation around, the approach is similar to the discussion above: “I am concerned that you’re not looking for a job when we agreed you’d go back to work when the kids were in school full time. What’s holding you back?” If it’s that the spouse has changed his/her mind, then involve him or her in the budgeting process. The loss of a second income will have an impact on the family. How can each partner take responsibility for that?
Too many people just let it ride, and four years later end up in our office feeling like they’ve been let down by the spouse who didn’t go back to work or curb spending. They realized too late that the real problem was that both people weren’t involved in making an active decision.
Your Children: While they may have started out as a surprise, their turning 18 and applying to college is not. Have the conversations about college early and often. And not just with your spouse, with the semi-adult children, too. A drastic change in circumstances is something an 18 year old is able to understand. But “we blew our wad on your siblings and didn’t plan for you” is sure to land him on a therapist’s couch.
Read more tips on dealing with finances in your relationship here: http://estestherapy.com/relationshiptips/2008/04/30/financial-stressors-keeping-your-relationship-strong-in-a-recession/, and to find out more about sharing college costs with your ex, go here: http://www.kiplinger.com/columns/drt/archive/2004/dt040826.html.