In our society, money represents power, success, and often even your value as a person. We say (misquoting the Bible,) “Money is the root of all evil," or “money is power;” or “he who has the gold, makes the rules.” We consider it spiritual to take a vow of poverty, and we prosecute and convict people who get greedy.
Money is serious stuff. Some of us think people who make a lot of money must lack character; others think poor people are morally deficient. These attitudes are not the way we want to think, they’re prejudices, acquired before we learned to think rationally. But these prejudices can cause huge troubles in marriage, including financial infidelity – where one or both parties spend money out of resentment, jeopardizing the couple’s financial security.
Money issues couples fight about include: Who pays for what? Who keeps records, pays bills, controls budget, etc.? When, how and why do we spend money? One wants to save, the other wants to spend. How do we make big financial decisions? Or, perhaps, they can’t talk about money at all without arguing.
If you and your partner tend to think the business end of a relationship is not a romantic topic for courtship, you may not discuss it until you can’t avoid it, and then you fight. You may not think of your marriage as a business deal, but a huge part of it is just that. Just like a business, a marriage takes in income, pays expenses, and is supposed to have a little profit (savings) left over.
The business aspects of marriage are clear to me, because for 15 years before I went back to school and eventually became licensed as a therapist, I was an accountant in business. Just like a small business, your relationship has one or more sources of income, you have expenses, and, like a business, your marriage is supposed to make a profit -- to create savings, investments and equity (which a business would call assets) and have money left over in the bank at the end of the month.
As partners in a marriage you have similar financial responsibilities to partners in a business. In fact, some businesses are called partnerships, and we often use the same word for relationships. Family members are somewhat like workers, when they do maintenance, chores and homework, and somewhat like clients, who receive services from the partners, Mom and Dad.
Mom and Dad are the Chief Operating and Financial Officers, who must figure out how to allocate the funds coming in, and how to provide the necessary guidance and services to their children and to each other. In business, there’s a lot of discussion about ‘corporate culture’ -- the attitudes and practices within the business: how employees and executives deal with each other, the ethics of the company, and their focus, or lack thereof, on meeting goals and becoming successful.
Likewise, your marriage and family have a ‘family culture’ -- how you interact as partners and family members; your mutual goals, hopes and dreams; and how successful or unsuccessful you are at meeting your goals. Obviously, a family culture that involves a lot of fighting about money will be less efficient and not as successful at meeting its goals.
No matter what your circumstances, creating financial security can make life easier. To do this, you must learn to manage your money wisely. The amount of money you bring in may not be large, but if you manage it well, it can be all you need. On the other hand, we have all heard stories of people who earned vast sums of money (lottery winners, celebrities or dot-com millionaires, for example) and who squandered it until they had nothing left.
The amount of your income will not determine the amount of your “family profit” unless you manage it well. When you work together to handle your finances intelligently, you can create the financial security you need to live life comfortably. When your partnership extends to making smooth financial decisions and meeting your money goals without struggling and arguing, you’ll find that everything else you do becomes less stressful.
USING BUSINESS SKILLS AT HOME
Viewing your family dispassionately as a business doesn’t sound romantic, but if you can step back from your feelings long enough to view your relationship from this perspective, your financial situation make more sense, money problems will be easier to solve, and you’ll be able to discuss financial decisions with less difficulty. Here are some guidelines for using business skills at home.1. Don’t React -- Respond.
As I said in the previous chapter, neither of you would argue with the boss, colleagues at work, or a child's teacher the way you argue with each other. Even if your boss makes you angry, most likely you would use self-control at the office, and blow off steam in private to your co-workers or a friend. Then, when you had a chance to think about the situation, you’d develop a better way of handling it, and perhaps approach your boss with a considered solution. You can do the same thing with your spouse when you have a money problem. Instead of saying the first thing that occurs to you, such as criticism or blaming, stop and think of a response more likely to lead to a discussion of the problem, rather than an argument. 2. Use positive manipulation.
We often think of manipulation as a bad thing, as dishonest. However, acting in a way that makes it more likely to get a good response is not always deceitful or insidious. When you present an idea or solution, think about what your spouse would like about it, and lead with that. “Honey, you know that new car you’ve been wanting? I think I have a way for us to get it.. We could take out some equity on the house to renovate the kitchen, we could get your new car, and the interest would be so much cheaper than a car loan.” This is truthful, thoughtful, and clearly shows the husband how both of their wants can be taken care of, so it’s more likely to get a positive response. 3. Have a Formal Meeting.
Just as you would in business, sit down for a real meeting about important financial issues. Don’t expect to be able to discuss finances successfully while you’re on the run, when it’s late at night, or while watching TV. Instead, make a date for discussing finances, and take the time to sit down together, with all the proper information, and discuss your needs, wants and means. Follow a meeting method like Robert’s Rules of Order, to keep the discussion on track. If a difficult problem arises, use the problem solving skills at the end of this chapter. 4. Take Finances Seriously.
Healthy businesses keep a close eye on the bottom line. In marriage, this means being careful about your money, but also not using money as a weapon against each other, or being irresponsible about it. A successful, happy marriage requires that both partners act like grownups. It’s not surprising if you have disagreements about how much to save, when and what to spend and who makes financial decisions, because such differences are normal between people. If you take them seriously, and sit down to solve them together with mutual good will, your different points of view will become assets, not problems. 5. Check in Regularly.
As you do in business, have a brief check-in as frequently as possible. In the morning, or the night before, compare your daily schedules. Even if the things on your schedule don’t really involve your spouse, mention them, so that each of you will know if you’re facing anything important, or challenging in the day ahead. When you have an idea of what’s involved in each others’ daily lives while you’re apart, you will be much more able to respond in a helpful fashion to each other, especially when sudden changes or problems arise. For example, you can say I have to pick up some clients at the airport today, and I don’t know what the traffic will be like, so I could be late tonight.”
When you follow these guidelines for handling money together, you’ll understand each other better, and you’ll both understand your goals and feel more motivated to follow the plans you make. Tina Tessina, Ph.D., has been a licensed California psychotherapist for more than 30 years. She's authored more than 11 books, including "Money, Sex and Kids." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.