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Money and Marriage

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

One of the most serious problems affecting huge numbers of married couples and families in the United States today is money management issues and credit card debt. Along with sexuality it is the most difficult issue for couples to discuss with one another as well as in psychotherapy. In fact, many couples seek marriage therapy because they can discuss neither sexual issues nor money issues without descending into a huge argument. Despite the best of intentions at the outset of a discussion many couples have reported to me that one or both of them end up feeling hugely angry and argumentative.

Why is it difficult to discuss money and financial issues?

Money and finances have deep meanings for people that go to deep layers of their psyche. For example, many consider money to be an extremely private issue that they are unwilling to share another. Friends may discuss stock investments but never their personal finances, incomes and overall wealth. Money relates directly to issues of high or low self-esteem, feelings of success or failure, power or weakness and what some may judge to be an individual’s social conscience or economic exploitation of others. Money also relates to self perceived feelings of dependence or independence. I have known a few cases where a new wife had no idea how much money their husband earned. This is not openness and not a fortuitous way to begin a marriage.

These issues and problems come to bear on marriage and family life:

Newly weds must resolve how to handle their finances and this is no easy task because it impinges on and can even threaten feeling about autonomy and independence. Many people enter into marriages not wanting to share their earnings. This reluctance is often intensified by the fact that there is a very high rate of divorce and, even at the start of a marriage people are concerned about what may happen if the marriage fails. As one young husband said to me in marriage therapy many years ago, “why should I let her have my savings? If we divorce she could get my hard-earned money and some other guy she marries can kick back while I will have to continue to kill myself to earn a living.”

Money equals power for many people and, therefore, control of finances, bank accounts, bills, and how much each spouse is allowed to spend implies who will and will not be in control. Young married couples often begin to struggle with one another over these questions of finances. In fact, with many people marrying at older ages today, there is increased resentment over the possibility of sharing finances and budgets after many years of living independently. As another individual stated to me about marriage and money, (he was anticipating marriage) “why do I have to be responsible for someone else after all of these years when up until now I have only had to be responsible for myself.

Many young couples quarrel over how to divide their income. For instance, some people advocate putting both incomes together and using a single bank account to pay bills, save a certain amount in an interest bearing account and each have some cash to spend on daily expenses and luxuries. I have heard people argue about this based on a number of factors: 1. “I earn more so it’s not fair if I put my money in with my partner’s earnings;” “I do not want to share my money. I want to keep mine and you keep your money;” “I don’t trust you or anyone with my money.” These are just a few of the many arguments I have heard young married couples make over their financial issues. Of course, what escapes most of these is the notion that “we are now married and it’s now our money towards a shared future.”

Credit Cards, Mortgages and Overall Debt:

As though money, sex and learning to live together are not difficult enough for most people their problems are exacerbated by debt. Some people enter into their marriages with personal debt and other couples find themselves quickly getting more deeply into debt from one year to the next of their marriage.

There are many young people who are burdened with repaying their college and graduate tuition bills because their parents were not able to do so. All too often this education debt is further burdened by associated expenses during the college and graduate years such as room and board, food, text books and entertainment. In addition, college and graduate students are frequently flooded with advertisements encouraging them to open credit accounts at extremely low rates of interest. Closer perusal of the advertisements would reveal that those interest rates undergo enormous increases after one year. Too many young people, excited by the prospect of having their own credit card, manage to overlook the fine print.

Young, married couples also discover that their mailboxes are stuffed with credit card advertisements. This is particularly enticing when these couples want to furnish their house or apartment. There is also the dream of purchasing a house or condominium which is something that most Americans aspire to. It should go without saying that there needs to be a car along with the house, furniture, computer and music system. In other words, it does not take long for people to find themselves deep in debt.

What About Being Frugal?

Simply put, it is difficult to be frugal when the entire society is pushing people to spend money. The mass media, including such things as television, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, etc. encourage people to purchase the latest in technology, such as HDTV, I Pods, and on and on. In fact people are told that they can save money by making these purchases. If there ever were a paradox and conundrum for people this is it, this notion that they can save money by spending it!

Young married people are soon overwhelmed by monthly bills that soon far outweigh their monthly income. Filled with anxiety and anger, many begin to blame and attack one another.

Is it any mystery as to why we have a fifty percent rate of divorce?

What to Do?

When couples cannot resolve their sexual and financial problems without getting into loud and hopeless arguments it is time to enter marriage therapy in order to explore solutions to these problems without bringing the marriage to the edge of divorce. Marriage therapy along with other types of psychotherapy is reimbursable by health insurance plans. There are also credit counseling agencies that help people to combine their debt, reduce interest rates and work out fair monthly payment programs with the credit companies.

What are your experiences with and comments about these issues?

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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