While people divorce for many reasons, two key factors that cause marriages to fail are lack of communication and money. Surprisingly, a recent study found that, even though 72% of married couples believed that they communicated well, and an even higher percentage believed they could talk to their spouse about money, 43% didn’t know how much money their partners really made, and over 1/3 disagreed on a number of important financial issues. So, even though a majority of married couples think they can talk about the family finances with their spouse, most of them clearly don’t.
As a divorce lawyer, I can’t say I’m all that surprised. It is not uncommon for clients (usually, but not always, women) to sit in my office and have little, if any, idea about how much their spouses earn, how much money the couple spends, or how much they have set aside for retirement. It wasn’t all that surprising, then, that they were facing divorce!
Understanding Your Family Finances is Important for a Healthy Marriage
Having a working knowledge of your family finances is not just important if you happen to be getting divorced. It is mission critical for those who hope to avoid divorce and stay reasonably happily married. Why? The answer lies in one word: Responsibility.
You are responsible for your own financial security. Always. Just because you say “I do” doesn’t instantly make your spouse solely responsible for supporting you, nor does it make you solely responsible for supporting your spouse. You are each still responsible for supporting yourself … and for supporting each other.
“Supporting yourself” doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that both you and your spouse have to work full time outside of the home. It doesn’t mean that you have to sit with a calculator and figure out how much money it takes to pay for the portion of the family expenses attributable to you and then make sure you earn enough money to cover those expenses. Your “support” may come in the form of raising the kids and taking care of your home. What’s key is that, in some way, you still contribute something toward the family’s support.
Your Financial Responsibility
When you are single, you are responsible for both supporting yourself and managing your money. The same thing holds true after you are married. Even if you are not employed outside of the home, or if your spouse makes more than you, you still need to know the state of your family’s finances.
If you allow your spouse to completely control all of the family money, you are not only putting yourself at a huge disadvantage if you divorce, but you are putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on your marriage. Managing money takes work! Not everyone is excited about being the one who has to sift through mountains of paperwork and pay the family bills every month.
What if Your Spouse Doesn’t Want You To Know the Family Finances?
If your spouse is a control freak, and insists on managing all of the money him or herself, you may think that not rocking the boat about money is the way to keep your marriage afloat. While that may be a way to keep a certain amount of conflict out of your marriage, if that is what it takes to keep your marriage from falling apart, you may want to take a good hard look at your marriage!
There is a difference between knowledge and control. You may be perfectly fine (actually ecstatic!) about the fact that your spouse wants to pay the family bills and leave you out of it. But, just because s/he may be in charge, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know what’s going on.
If your spouse truly has a problem with sharing information about money, and s/he won’t talk about it with you, then it’s time to look at what is going on in your marriage at a deeper level. Are you both equal partners in a joint venture? Or are you two free agents who just happen to be living together? Is your marriage about love, or is it about power and control? As long as you’re good with the answers to those questions, you’re ok. But if you’re not ….
Money and Communication
The truth is, both you and your spouse are responsible for communicating with each other as much as you are responsible for creating a financially sound union. If one of you isn’t willing to talk about money, or come clean with finances, sooner or later the other is going to either start feeling like a child, or wondering what the controlling person is trying to hide. Either way, the trust in your marriage will inevitably erode.
If you want to maintain a healthy marriage, both you and your spouse have to know what’s going on with the family finances, and be willing to talk to each other about money. While doing that won’t guarantee that you will live happily ever after, at least it will help make sure that two of the most common causes of divorce – lack of communication and money – don’t bring down your marriage.
I originally published this article on Your Tango.