Money in marriage!

Some time ago I read an interesting article that stated “as the US economy improved the divorce rates worsened!”

I’m sure if one were to do a similar analysis in India, the trend would be the same. We might still falter in terms of acceptance from society at large for being divorced but the trend would nonetheless come as no surprise.

What did it really mean?

I would think that it meant that most people look at their own happiness and satisfaction when it comes to divorcing their partner – even if the relationship has gone on for years. To an extent I am generalizing but it is true that when one is financially strong and independent, that is when thoughts of divorce are mostly entertained. If your basic survival depended on the earning member of the family then even though some might refer to it as the Stockholm syndrome, one does tend to find reasons to justify staying on.

It isn’t easy to live on your own – apart from society and sometimes losing friends and family for taking such a step, it is difficult to be responsible for every little thing in everyday life. Sometimes it helps to pass on the responsibility to someone else. But as the current situation and environment is no longer conducive to such expectations, more and more women are moving towards being financially independent.

Psychotherapist and author of How to be a couple and still be free, Tina B Tessina says, ‘financial independence is important in a marriage because it can also mean ‘independence of thought”. Its value is equivalent to a sense of self.

Why do most people believe that money and relationships can never get along? It’s perhaps because money is measurable, i.e., the give and take is quantifiable. Therefore how much the relationship will be impacted by money is dependent on the couples’ spending and saving habits, their experiences with money while growing up, their communication about the same and how they personally view and value ‘money’ and what it stands for to them as individuals.

In addition to this children and expenses related to them, financially dependent parents or siblings, property and inheritance, hobbies which by themselves are expensive to maintain (like diving, photography etc.), filing taxes – can all add pressure on one’s financial commitments.

Some time ago the joke doing the round about a wife’s view on money was, ‘darling what is yours is mine and what is mine is mine!’ This notion will not find too many takers today – unless of course, only said in jest! More and more women marry late today or get into live in relationships by which time they have their own place, have planned their financial responsibilities and earn well enough to want to continue exercising the option to make independent decisions about key things in their lives. As for the men, they too more often now see their role as the sole bread-winner changing – their wives/girlfriends are not only equal partners but in some cases earn more than them.

Some exercise the option to split their bills equally or in some form of equitable manner. This allows them the flexibility to use the remaining money on themselves or however they deem fit. The advantage is that it starts off as being reasonable but can lead to resentment over individual purchases or expenses. Also it tends to limit the couple’s spending power.

Some agree on which partner will pay for the bigger expenses (like purchase of property or white good) while who pays for the regular expenses (like rent, or monthly grocery etc.). Some might agree to maintain separate accounts yet open a joint account in which they input a certain amount every month which only goes towards living expenses while some might simply have a joint account for every kind of expense since they are now married and should share their lives together. To each his own!

Whatever the relationship or agreement – money is a key essential element that has the potential to lead to arguments and breakups. How one deals with money matters is solely dependent on each couple as there is “no right or wrong way” of doing it!

Being a Christian and marrying a Hindu, we had a Christian wedding followed by a Hindu wedding along with the legal registration thrown in between! We spent a lot of our own money before the wedding – money that were spent not only on purchases meant for the ceremonies and celebrations but was a way to share expenses with our parents and also have a say in the wedding arrangements. This meant that we were in debt when we married and it took us over a year to become debt free! In other words we both walked into the marriage carrying a substantial financial baggage!

I’m a firm believer that when it comes to money, its best to clear debt at one go and as soon as possible even if it means that I’m living hand to mouth for the rest of the month. My husband on the other hand believes that one must always have loose cash handy for emergencies (he never allows his bank balance to reduce beyond his own set limit) and debt should be cleared in a systematic manner without hampering that. Although we individually cleared our debts, his cleared faster as he was methodical while I struggled.

I don’t enjoy shopping and do so only using a list or I buy what I want when I need it or feel like buying. Also I only like to entertain close friends and family and don’t like to eat out too often. My husband, on the other hand, enjoys the experience of visiting different shops, evaluating the offer (either offline or online), taking his time to decide and then goes ahead and buys exactly what he wants. He mostly shops during sales and therefore always lands up getting a bargain. He loves company and likes to meet up with colleagues, acquaintances and friends for a coffee or drink. He also likes to eat out and enjoys exploring new cuisines or restaurants.

It’s evident that our perspectives on relaxing and spending money are different thereby indicating that we have different “money personalities.” Sometimes we’ve been able to sort out our differences, sometimes we’ve argued bitterly while in recent times (especially since I took a sabbatical from work with the birth of our child) we discuss to get each other’s views and then mutually agree to spend or save according to what works for him within the present situation as currently he is the sole earning member and we have a child to support.

Money matters are a constant in a relationship and therefore should ideally be dealt with as a couple! It’s important to share the work of budgeting, paying bills and handling finances. Otherwise, the person who handles everything could become resentful while the one, who doesn’t could be left without knowledge of the family’s finances especially in the case of illness, separation or death.

Most couples will agree that the crucial agenda with regards to money is not so much who is earning it (and how much) but who keeps control and takes the decision about spending it. That’s where money as power tends to raise its ugly head and if not addressed as a couple with sincerity and sensitivity, it will most definitely lead to trouble in paradise.

Money matters!

I was appalled years back during the pre-marital session at Church when some of the other couples were cagey about sharing details regarding money matters with each other – some believed that women tend to spend too much money and therefore as bread winners they wouldn’t want to be open about how much they earned – some preferred simply to hand over a fixed amount to their wives in the beginning of the month on the premise that she wouldn’t ask for more – some wanted the wife to play no role in financial decisions – it would solely be the husband who would decide.

My husband and myself didn’t believe in any of the above as we were both independent thinking people and strongly advocated that financial matters had to be a joint decision. We each began supporting our parents immediately after getting jobs so didn’t want to let go of that after the marriage, we knew that we wanted to spend a certain amount of money on ourselves and we knew that we would want to spend money as a family and within that save up for the future – ‘our’ future together.

Why is it so difficult for people to accept that money matters and does play a huge importance in our lives? Why should it matter if one partner earns less than the other? Why is it so difficult to cope with the money equation? What is it about money that makes one feel insecure?

Money = Power

Could this be the only reason? Money matters as money talks – so the person with more money has more power! After all, earning more doesn’t make one a better person. Nor does being in the same income bracket as your partner guarantee everlasting happiness.

Also, if that’s the case then the basic premise of a ‘equal partnership’ becomes baseless. Being a couple, togetherness, a unified marital identity does include money as one of its crucial pegs to stand on – indicating that an imbalance can create undue pressure – but which also means that the relationship will continue to stand its ground if the other pegs are strong.

Each partner carries their own baggage about money – their understanding of money matters, respect for money and its potential, acceptance of roles with money, their own earning potential to create or provide a comfortable haven – all are based on how they’ve been brought up, their parents and family’s reaction to money and what roles they’ve demarcated for themselves through their various life experiences. Even what money can buy or cannot reflects this baggage. Therefore a compromise has to be sought between partners – clarity of each other’s perspectives needs to be taken into account and it’s crucial to be honest with each other. Being in a relationship is all about maximizing each person’s assets including accepting what each partner brings to the table over and above the paycheck.

Loving someone and having that person love you back for who you are knows no price tag. My husband earns much more than I do – I’ve moved cities with my husband as and when he’s changed jobs. Yes it has impacted my work – yes it has meant that in every new city I have had to rebuild my professional career, I’ve had to establish my net worth – yes it’s meant that there have been breaks in my career. But simultaneously, it’s also true that no one pressurized me to take those decisions. We wanted to be together – as his earning potential increased it meant that our lives together became more comfortable. It opened up our perspectives on life in general and broadened our horizons. It also brought us together as a couple since in each new city we had only each other to depend on and make a new life together.

There is a clear understanding between us – we each pay for certain fixed costs, we each continue to support our families, we each have our salary accounts, we have separate saving accounts, insurance policies etc but we’re each other’s nominees, buying household goods is a joint decision (although my husband does most of the research in terms of companies & their offer), sometimes we pay each other’s credit card bills (especially if we’ve returned from a holiday or bought something for the house or if during a particular month one of us is stretched), we eat out regularly so either one of us picks up the tab or sometimes it’s only one of us paying for it and it’s the same with buying personal items.

Having said that, we’re not perfect – we continue to have our battles over what is necessary and what is not, how much is enough, who spends more, loosing track of monthly budgets, our struggle with saving money etc.

Therefore as life happens, the process of continuously balancing the sheets is essential for happy living.