- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Nothing is simple when it comes to marriage and money. Consider the following question, posted recently in a chat room on the Web site for Family Money magazine:

"How do I get my spouse to level with me about our investments? I know he's playing in the market, but he won't tell me if we're ahead or behind."

The range of responses to this posting fascinated me, because disagreements about money are among the major reasons people get divorced.

One person suggested that the woman seek marriage counseling because she and her spouseobviously lacked open communication about their financial goals as a couple.

Another responded: "Boy, are you stupid."

A woman named "Cathy" said: "Our investments? Sounds to me like it's his investments. You better be tucking away some of your own."

Several people took a pragmatic approach and suggested that the woman tell her husband she would like to learn more about investing. Instead of getting angry about what she perceived to be secretive behavior, the woman should tell her husband she wants to be prepared to handle the finances should he become disabled or die.

While the latter approach makes sense, it only can work in relationships where there is mutual trust and open-ended communication about financial goals.

If a couple has not made a practice of having such discussions, clashes are inevitable. The problem can reach a boiling point when couples start having children. Expenses rise, responsibilities increase, and time becomes very limited especially if both spouses have full-time jobs outside the home.

This crunch is happening in a culture where it is expected that women and men will pursue careers that give them financial independence. The independence carries over into marriage, where it is common for both spouses to play an equal role in earning money.

The equation changes once children are born. Will both parents work and use child care? Will one spouse stay home full time with the children? Or will one spouse take a pay cut and work part time?

It is very difficult to answer these questions if there is an underlying mistrust or lack of communication about financial goals. This is why it is important to discuss long-range goals before marriage, something many couples shy away from doing.

My husband and I did not discuss finances when we got married it never occurred to us it might be important. We were both financially independent. We owned our own houses, had our own investments and were in established careers with secure incomes.

We split our expenses straight down the middle. We maintained separate bank accounts and credit cards and did not establish joint ownership of our individual investments. We took turns with cash outlays for groceries, movies and meals out.

Things went smoothly until our two children were born. Then our expenses increased dramatically, mainly because of child care, and we had little time to plot strategy as we juggled full-time jobs and parenthood.

The financial crunch came when I made the decision to switch to a home-based reporting job so I could spend more time with the children. This resulted in a substantial pay cut. The past practice of splitting expenses evenly was no longer possible.

Our major mistake, according to family financial experts, was failing to agree on or even discuss our financial goals before we got married. We also did not anticipate what it would take to have proper child care for our children.

For marriages to work smoothly, money management should be a shared responsibility. If there are children, both spouses should agree on the financial arrangements in caring for them.

As for investing, couples should be able to talk to each other about what they hope to accomplish. When finances in a marriage are kept separate, there is no sense of teamwork or shared goals.

So my advice to the woman upset about her husband'sinvesting would be to read up on the markets, ask questions and strive for a partnership in the marriage rather than an adversarial relationship.

Have a question on work or family finances? Get in touch with Anne Veigle at 202/636-3014 or e-mail (evie1@infi.net).

More information

Books

• "Staying Married … and Loving It," by Dr. Patricia Allen and Sandra Harmon, William Morrow and Co. Inc., 1997. The book includes a good chapter on how to handle money, with case examples of what helps keep a marriage together. It discusses a variety of financial scenarios, including when a woman earns more money than her husband or when either partner refuses to disclose finances.

• "The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples," by Larry Burkett, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1997. Written by a longtime counselor of Christian families, this book puts financial planning within a biblical context for people who want to incorporate what the Bible says about money into their marriages.

• "Money and Marriage: Making It Work Together," by Steven Pybrum, Abundance Publishing, 1996. The book offers some helpful advice about how couples should communicate about money matters, and it covers a wide range of topics, from setting up financial plans to formulating investment strategies.

On line

• Gayle Peterson's on-line column, "Ask Dr. Gayle," offers marital advice (www.parentsplace) and also includes links to family-related bulletin boards and chat rooms.



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