News And Views
Marriage in the News
March 2010: Between “Yes, I Will Marry You” and “I Do” Comes “the Money Talk”
Because money is “a powerful force” that makes an impact on a marriage, couples ought to “learn to talk about money early and often,” Jeff Opdyke wrote in a column for Valentine’s Day 2010 in The Wall Street Journal. But it is rare that money is the “real culprit” for a couple, Opdyke suggested. Instead, a “lack of communication” tends to be the issue.
Opdyke believes, however, that couples can learn to communicate about finances and stop fighting about money. He is well known as a writer on family and personal finances in The Wall Street Journal. His books include 2009’s “Financially Ever After” (Collins Business), 10 chapters of which discuss “questions every couple must ask” about money matters, even before marrying.
Was money an appropriately romantic topic for a Valentine’s Day column? Doesn’t everyone know that money often makes an unpleasant entrance into the conversations of engaged and married couples?
Not only do a husband and wife tend to approach money matters from different perspectives due to their individual personalities and histories, but they may also find the high cost of living highly disturbing. I sense that couples sometimes feel more like victims of life’s money realities than like adults charged with planning the use of whatever money they have and developing better spending habits. And the recession hasn’t helped!
Is husband-wife communication the solution? Opdyke thinks so. Imagining the many couples contemplating future marital bliss on Valentine’s Day, he wrote, “Sometime between ‘Yes, I will marry you,’ and ‘I do,’ you and your partner need to have the Money Talk.”
Couples who communicate well about money “can mitigate the financial tensions that are normal in all marriages,” Opdyke said. What specific topics might an engaged couple discuss? His column examined four: each partner’s assets and liabilities; their money history; how they will divide financial duties; and whether they will combine their accounts or operate individually. In talking together about how they each view money, a man and woman will begin to understand each other’s “money habits,” which will help them “find a common approach for managing money successfully as a couple,” Opdyke said.
Dan Kadlec, another columnist who writes on money, said last April that, according to marriage counselors, “half of all couples fight about spending.” Kadlec wrote in Money Magazine that couples always have “argued about how to spend money,” but never before have had “quite so much to argue about.”
Nowadays, people are “inundated with opportunities to buy things,” Kadlec observed. And power struggles can develop over money when a husband and wife each have their own income. So Kadlec, like Opdyke, thinks improved communication is essential for couples when it comes to handling their money and making spending choices.
Author Mary Carty cautioned couples in “PMAT: The Perfect Marriage Aptitude Test” (Glitterati, 2009) that if they push financial problems into the background, the issues nonetheless “will eventually move to the forefront.” Her book, reviewed last June on this Web site, said that since money “plays such a major role in everyday life,” it just “makes sense that partners look at all details related to money, share their goals and expectations, and work together to create a successful financial plan.”
But Carty realized that communicating about any tough, emotion-laden issue can be difficult for couples. She recommended that before a husband and wife begin to discuss an issue they each take five seconds to call to mind the unconditional love underlying their life together.
Furthermore, Carty counseled readers, “bored looks and folded arms may give signals that you are not open or interested in what your partner has to say.” In their approach to any issue that challenges them, Carty urged spouses to “strive toward responding with respect, love, empathy, openness and a positive attitude.”
Opdyke clearly believes in the potential of couple communication focused on finances. In “Financially Ever After” he reported that he and his wife have “matured financially.” It took time and “a lot of communication and learning exactly how to talk to one another,” he said.
Today, though he and his wife sometimes do not agree about “certain expenses,” he says he cannot remember the last time they “fought about money.” He told newlyweds that everything needed for them to succeed financially “rests in your larynx and your head.” All couples need to learn is how to express themselves “in ways that don’t incite anger, that aren’t belittling and that aren’t hurtful,” Opdyke’s book insisted.