In Love and Marriage, Money Matters

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Talk About Money

Money is the biggest source of arguments in a marriage -- that's a fact that has been documented numerous times, including in studies from Citigroup, Worth magazine, and the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). And according to California-based financial planner Victoria Felton Collins, author of Couples and Money (Gabriel Books, 1998), money is the driving force in divorce a whopping 90 percent of the time.

In fact, therapists say it's harder to talk about money than it is to talk about sex. Why? In part, it's because talking about sex in the safe-sex era has gotten easier. Talking about money hasn't. But just as we learned to ask about condoms and HIV testing, we can learn to ask about spending habits, financial goals, and credit card debt. It's a matter of diving in. And for that, it helps to have a bit of a script (at the very least you need a good opening line). Here's how to get off on the right foot.

  • Find a neutral time. It's best to talk about money when money is not the issue. If you start talking while you're paying the bills or after your spouse has just purchased something you thought was a little too extravagant, your discussion is going to degenerate into an argument. You're better off talking about money issues over breakfast or during the commercial breaks on Friends.
  • Give a little to get a little. This is a trick reporters like me often use. We'll serve up some fact on our own lives to get our sources to similarly open up, a strategy that works really well with a spouse as well. Explaining how you feel about a particular money issue will encourage your partner to do the same. Say you want to talk about who pays for what, you might begin: "I think it's really nice that you paid for dinner the last couple of times we went out, but I need to know how you feel about that. Are you the kind of guy who feels good paying for women, or do you feel like it's a burden? Because I'm perfectly comfortable with picking up the check, too."
  • Know where you stand. It's important to be honest with yourself about how you feel. It may be hard to have a relationship with someone with major debt problems if you've paid every bill on time and in full your entire life. You may have mixed emotions about letting a date/spouse pay your way (part of you may enjoy being taken care of, while another part wants to maintain some independence). You can't be up front with your partner if you're not willing to be up front with yourself.
  • Bring in a third party. If you can't get yourself to start a financial conversation, sit down with a counselor and ask him or her to help you sort out your issues. That person could be a money therapist, but also a compassionate financial planner or member of the clergy. Many churches and synagogues now offer financial planning courses as part of their preparation for marriage.

Continued on page 3:  Opening Lines


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