Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2000
Money and marriage
Avoiding financial dissension a key to marital success
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
If you and your spouse have ever argued about money, you're not alone.
Studies show that family finance is one of the issues couples fight about most, says Tracy Heron, a management consultant for Price Waterhouse Coopers in Edmonton.
And it's easy to see why, she says, if you understand that the values people hold about money can be deeply rooted.
"Money issues are very prevalent in families, and if you're brought up with certain values about money, it is difficult to change them."
If you see money as a form of security, for example, "you're going to have a lot of conflict if you get together with someone who values spending money on entertainment or for immediate gratification," she says.
Heron is one of three experts the archdiocesan Family Enrichment Centre has brought together to present Marital Money Matters as part of a program for newlyweds beginning Jan. 23.
John MacDonald, director of the Family Enrichment Centre, says the program focuses on "pragmatic," aspects of the marriage relationship, while relating them to "the couple's commitment to the sacred sacrament of marriage."
The reason the first session will focus on finances, say program committee members Pat and Elaine Merrick, is because it was identified by couples as their number one interest, through a survey conducted last year.
"We see it as a follow-up to discussions in the marriage prep course," Pat says, adding that core topics such as finances, communication, and conflict resolution are "worth revisiting, now that the couples have some experience."
At the same time, Elaine adds, "it's good to take the time when we are calmer," to address difficult topics before they lead to major conflicts in a relationship.
Much of the conflict over money arises when couples don't talk enough about finances before they get married, says Heron, who formerly taught family finance at the University of Alberta.
It's difficult to adjust from being an individual to being a couple in terms of finances, she points out, particularly when both parties in a relationship are accustomed to autonomy in terms of earning and spending money.
"It's scary for many people because it's a loss of control."
Heron's presentation provides couples with practical advice, such as how dual-income families can combine their financial resources to reach common goals, while maintaining a portion of autonomy for each partner.
But the underlying goal is to get couples to understand, rather than try to change, each other's attitudes and values about money, Heron says.
"People get emotional when something touches their values," she explains.
"When you realize that values tend to be static over time, you start to understand the reasons behind some of the attitudes."
As part of the workshop, she asks couples to look at their individual family histories; for example, whether they received an allowance, and whether it was given automatically or whether it was contingent upon completing chores or academic performance.
The answers can be revealing, she says.
"If you had money handed to you every time you asked, you would have different values attached to it than someone who had to work for it."
Above all, Heron says "we emphasize that no thing is worth the relationship. So if one partner really wants a material object, and the other can't see the value of it, then we encourage them to concentrate on the relationship and keep material goods in perspective."
Greg Pelletier, a financial advisor who offers a financial planning seminar for couples through Concordia University College of Alberta, agrees.
"The bottom line is that the couple needs to develop an attitude of working together as a couple to look at their budget on a realistic basis and set priorities."
Lack of communication is the number one reason married couples have conflicts over finances, Pelletier adds.
"Usually in a relationship, one person does the accounts, and when the other partner spends money without telling them, it leads to problems."
Conflicts over day-to-day spending are more of a threat to a couple's relationship than long-term financial planning, which tends to be more a matter of choices and different risk tolerances, Pelletier says.
The stress is compounded when the family is living beyond its means, he says.
"All we can do is strongly suggest people work out a budget and follow it, and communicate, because inevitably it will turn into a problem when they are overdrawn."
Although the thought of developing a budget and sticking to it may sound unpleasant, Pelletier says it's worth it to avoid the problems of deficit spending.
And in his experience, a couple's income bracket is irrelevant when it comes to budgeting and living within their means.
"I have met with people who are lower-income earners and live within their budget and are perfectly happy, and I've met people who are higher-income earners who . . . never seem to have enough money."
Heron agrees that a difference in values is the primary factor in a couple's attitude toward finances, not necessarily different economic backgrounds.
When couples are having difficulty reconciling disparate values, she adds, "we always go back to the principle of the relationship - they have to have trust and faith in their relationship."