When Love and Money Collide
It all starts with the vows: for richer or poorer. We stand up at our weddings and recite those vows fully expecting that we will happily stand by each other, no matter what. We have big dreams about the life we’re starting with this person we love so much.
Every marriage starts with big hopes and dreams. You walk down that aisle celebrating all the beautiful ways you connect as a couple, all those little moments of excitement and joy and intimacy and fun and love and goodness that have been the building blocks of your relationship. And for a while, those hopes and dreams and joys are enough to carry you through the adjustments of marriage.
And then life happens. It doesn’t matter if things go along just as you planned or if your plans get derailed early on. The bottom line is that life, no matter how great it is, pushes a lot of our hopes and dreams to the side. You have jobs. You have kids. You buy a house. You lose a house. Your parents get older. You find yourselves stressed out by the present and worried about the future. And over time, through no fault of your own, those dreams you had for your life together get put on the back burner and, one by one, they start to dry up and disappear.
The dream to buy a house? Can’t afford it. The dream of going back to school? Not with a baby on the way. The dream of backpacking through Europe? Can’t get time off. The dream of retiring at the beach? Not after the market tanked. Whether your dreams are big or small, they tend to fade as the years go by.
Ellen and Jack are a perfect example. When they got married, Ellen was working her way toward a partnership at a small law firm. Jack was a graphic designer and had dreams of starting his own design business. Right away, they started saving so Jack would have some start-up capital when the time came to set out on his own. They had a five-year plan and a common goal. But after they’d been married for two years, Ellen was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Her doctor recommended she cut back her hours at work and try to reduce the stressors in her life. While they had good health insurance through Ellen’s job, they still had new expenses to deal with that put a dent in their savings. And that meant Jack’s dream would have to wait a bit longer.
As Ellen’s illness became more manageable, the job market became less stable. It no longer seemed like a good idea for Jack to venture out on his own, especially when he knew plenty of designers who would do anything for a regular job like the one he wanted to leave. So they waited a little longer.
You can see how this will play out, right? Pretty soon five years have passed. And then they have kids, and then ten years have gone by and the kids need braces or they want to buy a bigger house or Jack’s mom dies and his dad moves in with them. After a while, the dreams of those early days just die off.
Now Jack and Ellen would be the first to tell you that they have a great life, that they’ve made choices they feel good about, and that they are blessed beyond measure. But they also admit that they miss dreaming about the future together. Ellen says, “When we got married, I remember talking about how fantastic it would be for Jack to have his own company and really make his mark in the design world. His eyes would light up when we talked about it. Now most of our conversations are like business meetings—who’s doing what and when. I know he wouldn’t trade our life now for anything, but I’d sure like to see that look in his eyes again.”
There’s something life-giving about dreaming together as a couple. It’s a reminder that you are stronger together than you are apart. It’s a way of saying to your spouse, “I look forward to the future with you.”
If you’ve lost track of the dreams you used to have, we believe you can get them back. We believe you can reclaim the life you envisioned, one dream at a time.
The Money Part
There’s a reason we take vows to stick together for richer or poorer. Money ripples into every part of our lives as couples. That’s why, whether you have it or you don’t, money can test a relationship. If you think about the dreams you had when you got married, most of them have some kind of money component—buying a house, having children, getting a job, moving to a new city, traveling, spending time with friends. Money doesn’t equal happiness, but money does play a part in whether our dreams turn into reality. And when money gets between us and our dreams, we get very unhappy and look for someone to blame. And guess who’s sitting right there? Yep, our spouses.
We meet with all kinds of couples. And there’s a look we see that shows up in couples who have lost their dreams for what their marriage could be. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been married for forty years or four months. It doesn’t matter if they argue constantly about money or if they never talk about money. They sit in our office and barely talk to each other, barely look at each other. When they do speak, their words are filled with blame and resentment and anger. And it’s all because life hasn’t turned out the way they’d hoped it would.
They come to us because they believe that having a better budget will help. They hope that if they invest some money in just the right ways, they can have that retirement house they dreamed of. But their budget isn’t really the issue. We can hand them a budget that’s airtight, but if they don’t know how to communicate with each other, if they don’t know how to work together as they live within that budget, then it doesn’t matter how nice their plans are. Their relationship will sink.
Most couples have no idea how to talk to each other about the money component of a decision. They don’t know how to compromise or listen to each other or make plans that meet both of their needs. Instead, they fight. They blame each other. They resent each other and hurt each other and hide money from each other. And then they divorce each other.
Reviving Your Dreams
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s the thing: every decision you make as a couple involves money. Every. Single. One. Money factors into everything from the kind of house you live in to where you go on vacation, from the kind of shampoo you use to the kind of bread you eat. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a $5 cup of coffee or a $50,000 car—money is part of every piece of our lives.
That’s why couples who disagree about money will disagree about everything.
That combination of love and money is what makes up your Money Relationship. Just like your physical relationship is about much more than sex, and your emotional relationship is about far more than your feelings, your Money Relationship involves a whole lot more than your money. It’s about how and why you connect—or don’t—when you make decisions where money is involved. It’s the deeper set of assumptions and beliefs you bring to your money decisions.
We created this book to help couples stop fighting about money and repair their Money Relationship, regardless of their financial situation. We want to change the way you communicate about money. We want to give you practical, efficient, easy-to-remember, easy-to-apply tools to help you build a stronger Money Relationship. But more than anything else, we want to rekindle your passion for the future—and for each other.
When you started dating, you couldn’t help but dream together. You were so excited to learn about each other, to discover your sweetheart’s favorite food or most embarrassing moment. You wanted nothing more than to know and understand each other. You could talk for hours, dreaming of the life you’d build together. This is the day to start dreaming again. We believe that every couple can recover the love, intimacy, and dreams they had when they first fell in love.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Recapture that desire to discover new things about your spouse. Take turns telling each other one thing the other person might not know about you, even after years of being together.
Your Money Relationship
We’re going to start by really digging into this idea of a Money Relationship. It’s kind of ironic that most of the couples we work with have no idea they have a Money Relationship, even though they have come to us to talk about their money and how it’s affecting their relationship. It just doesn’t occur to people that the way they deal with money as individuals will play into the way they deal with money as a couple.
Instead, couples tend to think that if they just get a really great financial plan in place, they’ll stop arguing about money. They think that if they can stick with a budget or get enough put away for retirement or start building their savings that their money problems will be over. But they’re wrong. They can fix the budget, stock up for retirement, even load up the savings account and still have a lousy Money Relationship. And what good is the budget if you can’t stand each other? What good is that retirement fund or that savings account if your relationship is a mess?
What It’s Not
Your Money Relationship has nothing to do with your budget. It has nothing to do with your savings. It has nothing to do with how much debt you have or how much you spend every month. That’s your financial arrangement—your debt, retirement, taxes, insurance, investing, estate planning, and so on.
Your Money Relationship is about the daily decisions you make as a couple in which money is involved. (We even put it in italics to show you how important it is!)
Before we move on, we want you to really understand the difference between your finances and your Money Relationship. Your financial plans, your debt, your investments, your taxes, your budget—that’s one aspect of your life together. And that’s not what this book is about. We want to focus on the relationship behind that part of your life, your Money Relationship. That’s the part of your marriage that involves all of those little day-to-day decisions about money.
Here’s what we mean: Jonell and Kai have been married for fourteen years. They make a fairly good living; he’s an accountant at a hospital and she does fund-raising for a small nonprofit organization. They have owned their modest house for eight years. They have a bit of student loan debt left to pay off and one car payment. They tend to use credit cards to pay for nearly everything, but they pay off their cards almost every month. Kai has a 401(k) through work, but they haven’t thought all that much about their retirement funds. Their main financial goal right now is to put aside a decent amount of money to help their two children pay for college.
We’ve given you a pretty good picture of Kai and Jonell’s financial situation. You know they have some debt, some savings goals, some money in a retirement fund. You have the basics on their financial life. But those details tell you nothing about their Money Relationship.
When it comes to their Money Relationship, Kai and Jonell have some real challenges. Kai, the accountant, is obviously good at balancing a budget and figuring out where to save and where to spend. So he handles all of the finances in their marriage. Jonell, despite being in a finance-oriented field herself, isn’t all that interested in how much they bring in each month or how much they pay out each month. She knows Kai has it taken care of and she doesn’t think twice about it.
But Kai worries about their money constantly. Every evening, he looks over their online credit card account to see how much they spent that day. He lies awake, silently calculating where they can cut back to make sure they pay off the bill that month. Those rare months when they have to settle for a minimum or partial payment feel like a failure to him.
If Jonell buys a new outfit for a fund-raising event, Kai mentally cancels his plans to take her out for a nice dinner later that week and quietly resents Jonell for pushing their monthly budget to its limits. He worries that they won’t have enough for their retirement, much less enough to help the kids with college. He’s considered talking to Jonell about his concerns, but he knows she gets defensive when they talk about money. So he keeps his worry to himself.
While their financial picture is perfectly healthy, their Money Relationship is anything but. He’s a wreck, she’s clueless, and neither of them has any idea that this is a crisis in the making. It won’t be long before Kai either explodes at Jonell for her spending or develops an ulcer from worrying about it. And Jonell doesn’t get a free pass here. Her willingness to wash her hands of the family finances isn’t a sign of trust; it’s a sign of disrespect for Kai. Why should he bear the full weight of decisions that have an impact on the whole family?
Most couples have no idea that there’s a difference between their finances and their Money Relationship. So when they try to solve financial problems that are really the result of a troubled Money Relationship, they end up frustrated. Unless couples get to the root of the problem—the challenges in their Money Relationship—they just can’t move forward.
We worked with a couple who had been married for more than forty years and had been clients with our financial planning company for most of those years. One afternoon, they came in for an appointment and announced they were getting a divorce.
All their financial plans were in place and had been for a long time. But behind those perfect plans were resentment and hurt feelings and misunderstanding. The problem was that they never understood that they thought about money in very different ways. So every decision they made in those forty-plus years just added another straw of resentment to the proverbial camel’s back. Their plans were solid but their relationship had fallen apart.
They had plenty of money and they’d managed it fairly well. The problem? She thought they needed more money in their retirement accounts and he didn’t. She’d been anxious about their future for years and had nagged him about putting more away. But he thought they’d be fine and had stopped listening to her concerns a long time ago. The closer they got to retirement, the more anxious she became until she couldn’t take it anymore and she bailed.
On the surface, their impending divorce was the result of poor financial planning. But it wasn’t their assets that were the problem. It was their total lack of communication. We’ve never seen a couple break up over their 401(k) performance. We’ve never seen a couple get divorced because they didn’t have enough life insurance or because their estate planning wasn’t complete or because they didn’t pay off their student loans in less than five years. What kills relationships is miscommunication and misunderstanding. That’s especially true when it comes to money because, as we’ve said, it has an impact on every aspect of life.
We often ask couples to tell us about the last money decision they made. Most of them come up with some investment or a savings plan or a big purchase. But when we ask them to think smaller, they start to see that they are dealing with money almost from the moment they wake up.
Think about it. Do you take a long shower or a moneysaving short shower? Coffee at home or a fancy coffee from the place on your way to work? Generic cereal or the name-brand stuff? Drive to work or take public transportation? Bag lunch or out to eat? Squeeze in some overtime or go back home to the family?
If you and your spouse have fundamental disagreements about money—how much to spend, how much to save, how much risk is too much—then each of those little, seemingly innocent decisions about hot water and coffee and lunch are fraught with meaning. Take a long shower when your spouse is trying to cut back on the utilities and you’ve just created a problem. Grab breakfast at the fast-food joint when you’ve agreed to an eat-at-home budget and you’ve stirred the hornet’s nest.
Because money trickles down to just about every decision we make during the day, it’s not surprising that couples clash over money. It’s like a constant pop quiz, one you’re bound to fail unless you and your spouse have a strong Money Relationship.
Breaking the Cycle
What we see over and over again is couples who are caught up in a cycle of assumptions, misunderstanding, and blame. It doesn’t matter if they have a healthy bank account or are deep in debt. Because money isn’t the problem. Their Money Relationship is the problem.
It took us years to see this, not only in our marriage, but in our work. We’d been in the financial planning business for a decade before we realized that something wasn’t working. We’d meet with couples, put together airtight financial plans for them, and still see them fighting, stressing out, and even divorcing because of their financial issues. And we didn’t get it. We thought that once we gave them a plan, their conflict would go away. But it didn’t.
That’s when we realized there was something else going on. It wasn’t the money itself that created these issues. It was that couples had no idea how to talk about money in a way that helped them work together to build the future they’d always dreamed of. We’d been focusing on the “how” behind their money plans instead of the “why.”
What we didn’t realize is that it’s not enough to have your financial ducks in a row. You need to know why you think about and deal with money the way you do. And that’s what this book is all about.
Think about the last time you and your spouse argued about money. For most couples, those arguments are rarely about the money itself. Instead, they are about deeper relationship issues like trust and respect and connection.
Take Mitch and Karen, for example. Mitch loves his coffee. Loves it. If he can’t start his morning with a twenty-ounce double shot from his favorite coffee shop, his whole day is off. But Karen doesn’t understand why Mitch would pay almost six bucks a day to feed his habit when she brews a great pot of coffee at home every morning for pennies. She’s tired of watching Mitch spend more than $100 a month on something she sees as totally unnecessary. One morning she lets him know he needs to cut back.
Connie Dello Buono, Retirement planner for new couples in 50 US states
CA Life Lic 0G60621
1708 Hallmark Lane San Jose CA 95124
Also in SSF, Milpitas, Palo Alto,Fremont,Carmel,Gilroy,San Diego, LA,Stockton and Vallejo