When couples first get married, one of the fundamental changes they face is suddenly sharing their lives in ways they never have before. In an ideal world, these would all be happy changes, but without a doubt, there are also difficult adjustments that come with living a life in which the decisions are no longer yours alone. And the mother of all these is learning to share decisions about money.
You may have different spending habits. When one of you is more of a spender, and the other is more of a saver, this can obviously be a source of stress. You may have different ideas about where the money should go. When you’re used to having all the say as a single person in how you handle money, learning to share, compromise and work together can be a challenge for any couple.
However, there is one fundamental decision you can make today that could make a world of difference in mitigating the problems that money causes in your day-to-day relationship: make a budget (and stick to it).
Now, I realize that’s not as simple as it sounds, because it involves confronting all the challenges I mentioned above about reconciling the differences in your wants, needs and habits (although addressing them is in and of itself a good thing). However, as soon as you make the decision to treat budgeting more as math than a power struggle, to live within your means, and have a plan that brings you more security day-to-day as well as in the long-term, you’re on your way to making your lives a lot less stressful. Here is the beautiful thing: when that happens, it frees up space in your mind and your relationship to work on some more of the fun stuff, like enjoying your time together.
This is equally important for single people, but for couples, money issues that get swept under the rug tend to morph into all kinds of different stresses that undermine your relationship while disguising themselves as problems that simply don’t need to exist. Imagine if your partner’s golf expenses, manicure bills or clothing charges—whatever they may be—became less about accusations of selfishness or carelessness and more about simple money management.
Studies have shown that major catastrophes—even financial ones—take less of a toll than the slow-burning ones that crop up over and over again, and that’s where good budgeting can make a huge difference. People with relatively large incomes and those with more modest ones are equally capable of money mismanagement. To be clear, I am not giving any specific financial advice—I’m not qualified for that and wouldn’t even pretend to be. But, I have learned from experience working with couples, or even just talking about friends, that when they’re struggling to pay an unexpected bill because they don’t have a rainy day fund, or get stuck with late fees because they overspent over the holidays, it causes a lot of stress. And in so many cases it can be avoided if you will make the commitment to plan, stick to your promises and keep open clear lines of communications about financial matters—preferably, before problems arise.
If it helps, take advantage of a neutral third party at your local bank or credit union—or even a good book about money management—as a source of impartial advice to deflate the tensions, accusations and emotions that can get in the way. The important thing to remember is that you are in this together, so use it as a way to strengthen your relationship and feel more secure.
The bottom line is that making a shared commitment to be responsible with your money can bring rewards tenfold—financially and emotionally—because the less time you waste worrying about how to pay the bills means more time and energy you have to enjoy the relationship, and that’s always a good thing.
If you’re struggling with communicating about finances and budgeting in your relationship, a couples counselor can work with you to help you understand each other better. Sometimes it takes the insight of a professional in order to see things differently, communicate and find common ground over such a touchy subject. Please give the counselors at OC Relationship Center a call today at 949-220-3211, or book your appointment via our online calendar.