Young love can be a wonderful time of discovery and sharing. New couples, regardless of their ages, need to get to know one another and explore the possibilities of building a life together. For this reason, they tend to be great talkers. They discuss their histories, their philosophies of life, their goals, and their dreams.
Unfortunately, not many of those conversations include discussions about money. This may be one reason why "money issues" is the number one cause of divorce in America.
We think of marriage primarily as a romantic partnership, which it certainly is. At the same time, it is equally a legal and business relationship. If you don’t believe that, ask the 50 percent of married people who have suffered a divorce.
Ideally, all engaged couples would discuss the following questions.
· What do we each believe about how money works? Perhaps she has been taught that it is essential to save as much as possible to build security against a rainy day. Perhaps he grew up with an attitude of, "money is to spend, and there’s always more where that came from." Such conflicting beliefs are likely to foster serious disagreements and resentments, especially if they are never discussed.
· What are our most painful memories around money? This question can be an effective way for couples to learn one another’s "hot-button" issues about money.
· How will we manage our money as a couple? It is common for each partner to assume that money will be managed in the same way it was done in his or her family. If a bride has grown up with parents who managed everything jointly, she may be offended, hurt, or angry if her new husband suggests having separate checking accounts. A man who saw his father take care of all the family finances may well expect to do the same, and if his new wife wants to be involved he may feel she doesn’t trust him.
· What is mine, yours, and ours? Having a clear understanding about what money or property is individual and what is part of the marriage can prevent a great deal of misunderstanding.
· What are our philosophies about college education, saving for retirement, and debt? If she sees debt as a normal way of life and he views it with horror, such decisions as whether to buy a new car or using credit cards can become relationship-damaging minefields.
· Will we have a prenuptial agreement? Even raising this question can douse a warm romance with a dash of cold water. A prenup isn’t often necessary, but in some situations it can be a valuable tool to head off potential conflict over money.
· How will we handle any financial inequalities in our relationship? This question isn’t necessarily only for couples where one is wealthy and the other isn’t. One of my clients, in a new marriage which created a stepfamily of five children, became a stay-at-home mom for the first time in her life. She told me how much it meant to her when she and her husband created a spending plan, and he included a budget item of equal personal allowances for him and for her. His action made clear to her that he valued her contribution of managing the household equally with his contribution as the breadwinner.
Because money issues are so crucial and can be so destructive, they should be an important topic of conversation for any couple looking to tie the knot. Talking about money may not be romantic. It is, however, an important way for any new couple to make a wise investment in their relationship.