Money (and the financial stress that often accompanies it) can take a big toll on a marriage. In fact, one of the leading causes of divorce is finances. While it may be a heated topic, there are practical steps you can take to alleviate the stress money may be having on your marriage. Here’s how to avoid money problems in marriage:
1) Take financial responsibility.
Empower yourself to learn about your finances. While most young couples enter a relationship knowing very little about what it means to be married, they are often even more clueless about money. “How do I make a budget?” “How much should I be saving?” “Are we living beyond our means?” As it is common that spouses will have different approaches to spending, conflict around these issues is inevitable.
One of the smartest steps you can take is to meet with a financial planner who can guide you and educate you about your finances. Money stirs up a host of emotions and therefore it can become challenging to make responsible decisions. A third party who can advise you based on cold, hard facts will help remove unnecessary stress from your relationship.
2) Understand your relationship with money.
Financial stress or unemployment can bring out the worst in a couple as it plays on some of our most primal fears. In Dr. Pat Love and Dr. Steven Stosny’s book, “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It,” they posit that the underlying root of marital conflict and disconnection is fear and shame. Men are hard-wired to provide for their family (hunter-gatherer, anyone?), so if they do not succeed in this mission they feel ashamed. This sense of failure is debilitating to a man and stronger than his fear for survival.
On the other hand, the primary emotion women experience when they are not provided for is fear. They are more concerned about starving to death than feeling ashamed for lacking. While much has changed in our society in terms of gender roles, we often find that men still need to feel like successful providers. Being unemployed or stuck in a dead-end job can be devastating to a man. This shame provokes his wife’s fear and sets up the vicious fear-shame cycle. When a husband and wife can be conscious that their fear and shame are actually fueling each other’s anxiety and validate the other’s concerns, they can break the cycle. This enables them to be calm and more productive in resolving the issue.
3) Improve your marriage.
While money woes can throw a marriage for a loop, it is often symptomatic of a greater problem. We all experience stressors, yet we deal with them differently. Money can serve as a barometer for our relationship health as it is at the top of our hierarchy of needs. When we don’t have money we instinctively slip into survival mode. The better we can handle stress in our relationship and the stronger the relationship is at its core, the less damaging effect money can have on it.
A relationship which is healthy and solid will not be easily toppled by even a big stressor while a marriage which is hanging by a thread will have trouble withstanding even the slightest tension. Fortifying your connection is the best way to enable you to deal with any stressor that comes your way. Even when money issues arise, you will be better able to communicate and work together to make productive steps toward resolving the matter without getting reactive and stuck in your defenses.
4) Work with a mental health professional.
Sometimes, we need a little additional help when it comes to solving big issues like financial stressors. If you think you could benefit from working with a professional, consider working with a couples counselor at Thriveworks. Our providers are skilled and experienced—not to mention, they truly care about your health and progress in life. Schedule an appointment today by first finding a location near you, or book an online counseling session and get help with your financial problems, which prove to have negative effects on your relationships.
While financial stress can easily destroy a marriage, if you take responsibility for your finances, understand your unconscious relationship to money, work on strengthening your marriage, and work with a professional when you need to, you will be able to weather the storm and emerge with an even stronger relationship.
Rabbi Slatkin is a licensed clinical professional counselor and a certified imago relationship therapist. He and his wife founded The Marriage Restoration Project, a global initiative to help keep couples together and happy.