Marriage only works when both partners are honest with each other. Keeping secrets from our spouse or taking actions that undermine to the goals we set out to achieve creates cracks in the foundation of our relationship. These cracks will grow until the foundation crumbles. We can’t pull as a team if one partner is pulling in a different direction.
Money and finances are often one area where partners might be tempted to keep secrets, or tell “little white lies” that grow into relationship-threatening issues. My Theory of 5 mentors and I have found that this area is often one of the main points of contention between partners in a marriage or relationship, and it’s not difficult to see why.
Money — or the lack of it — determines in large part how we will live. It affects our security, our lifestyle, our future plans and more. This is why it’s so important for a couple to have discussions on money — and our philosophies on spending and saving — early on in the relationship.
We also should continue to communicate about this topic regularly for the life of our relationship. It’s that important.
Part of being honest with our spouse about money is being honest with ourselves about how we view the role of money in our lives.
Spenders and Savers
From what my mentors and I have seen and experienced, there are two ends of the financial spectrum that we can land on when it comes to spending and saving money. At the frugal end, we have people who save every cent they earn and hate to let any of it go for any reason. And, on the other end, we have the spendthrifts, who aren’t afraid to spend anything and everything they have with no thought to the future.
The reality is that the vast majority of us land somewhere between these two extremes. The further apart we are from our partner, however, the more we’ll have to communicate about the decisions we’ll have to make about our finances. If we like having some extra cushion in our bank account for unexpected emergencies, and our partner loves to “live in the moment,” there’s are some compromises that are going to have to be made. And, if one of us always seems to be making the compromise, that’s going to add stress to the relationship.
Knowing that we might have different views on finance, wealth and/or health is key to coming up with solutions that we can both live with comfortably, and that knowledge only comes through communication. For instance, if our partner was raised by parents who taught them good saving skills, the value of budgeting and the power of investments, while our parents went from one financial crisis to another, we’re going to have different outlooks when it comes to finances. Having a calm discussion about money early can allow us to avoid having an argument — or a full-blown fight — down the road.
Once we have a pattern and a rhythm when it comes to our finance, we also might come to respect, and even enjoy, the habits of our partner. A tightwad might enjoy going on a vacation now and then, and a spender might come to appreciate that it’s not a budgetary emergency when the car needs new tires.
Sharing Our View of the Future
One way to get on the same page as our partner and stay true to our partnership is to plan for our future. If we don’t have a vision for where we would like to be in a year, five years, 10 years, 20 years and later, it’s more challenging to come up with a financial plan — and stick to it. Also, some plans might call for tightening our belts for a short while so we can live a life with financial freedom and independence in the future.
When I first married at the age of 23, we literally tracked every single cent we spent during our first few years of marriage. I was a natural saver, constantly looking for ways to grow our net worth, and she was not, but together we decided to set financial goals we wanted to reach and started to work toward them.
By communicating with each other, we stayed focused on our objective — building a new home. It’s easier for a couple to pull in the same direction when we have the same or similar goals.
We learned to sacrifice in the short term to reach our long-term goals:
I drove a 10-year-old Oldsmobile station wagon — complete with the woodgrain side panels — with 230,000 miles on it.
We didn’t go on vacation for years; we focused on having fun with family and friends.
We rarely went out for dinner; we enjoyed cookouts.
We kept our eyes on our goal and did what we had to do to reach our destination. We built enthusiasm and excitement in reaching our goal. Our vision of the home we’d build saw us through the sacrifices we were making, and when seen in that light, those sacrifices were viewed as investments in our future.
Besides the threat to our financial stability, there’s a deeper issue that not being honest with our partner about money will bring to surface.
It shows a lack of respect, and that’s a cancer to a marriage.
Successful marriages and relationships are unions of equals. If one partner feels he or she is innately superior (or inferior) to the other, the foundation of the relationship is cracked and most likely will crumble over time.
Each partner brings his or her own set of skills, talents, knowledge and experiences to the relationship. While each of us should have equal footing on the grand scale, couples will find that one person’s expertise allows them to be better at specific tasks while the other shines in different areas.
Our skills as handling the household finances, fixing things around the house, making sure we stay connected to family and friends and a host of other important day-to-day tasks will not be equal, and that’s okay. Over time — sometimes quickly and sometimes over a period of months or even years — we find our areas of expertise. When each partner respects the other and his or her abilities, these areas of specialization allow us to achieve more in the same amount of time. This type of interdependence is a key ingredient in the strongest relationships.
That’s not to say that we give up our right to have our voice heard — if we’re figuring out a household budget, both of us need to be involved in the discussion — but we allow the other to be the lead of their “zone.”
One pitfall to avoid at all costs is when we start to take for granted our partner’s skill in their areas of excellence. It’s important to let them know how much we appreciate what they do for us, and how much we value what they bring to our relationship. If he or she fixes a delicious meal, we should always let them know how much we enjoyed it.
Bringing this discussion back to financial matters, it’s easier to stay committed — to stay honest — to our partner and our future goals when we feel equally invested in the relationship. If one spouse makes more than the other, it can be easy — tempting, at times — for that person to throw his or her weight around when it comes to making decisions. This behavior can make the other person feel “less than,” and resentful. Money becomes the power in the relationship, and instead of an “us against the world” mindset, it can devolve into a “me vs. you” power play. In marriage, it’s not “my money” and “your money.” In heathy relationships, it’s “our money.”
Something else to keep in mind is that, in our modern world, traditional gender roles are continually being reassessed — and in some cases discarded entirely. He might be a better cook than she is. She might excel at her career and produce more income toward the household, so they decide that he will stay home with the children. That doesn’t make her “the boss” or him “less than her.” Again, we’re a team, and should behave like it.
Part of genuinely respecting our partner is to look at our abilities objectively, and not through the lens of past generations, and letting each other take the reins in the areas where we excel. When we both contribute our best efforts, when we’re honest with each other about finances and every other facet of our relationship, we’re building a life together that will weather any storm.