FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – Relationship landmine

Spending, unending consumption, credit cards, online shopping, ATMs, refinancing deals, and online money transfers have made managing finances a shell game and a relationship landmine. Debt is at an all-time high and it is affecting the quality of relationships.  For millennials who are marrying later, both partners have a financial history they bring into the relationship. Some enter marriage with undisclosed financial obligations. This disclosure-avoidance regarding debt creates a crumbling of trust and may even feel like a betrayal deconstructing the fabric of the relationship. 

Not only do we come into relationships with debt, but we also have unspoken expectations about how we make, spend, save, and give money. We have years of modeling about how our family of origin managed resources. Money affects choices, identities, self-worth, sense of freedom, security, emotions, hopes, dreams, expectations, and even sleep patterns. Conversations about money are based on intention, unspoken motives, daily decisions, activities, and a framework of a belief system that is not untangled in our consciousness or adequately verbalized. This makes finances the third rail of relationship management and a tightrope of delicate discussions. This is especially true as we deal with this inflationary economy. 

Research highlights that most adults enter marriage with some form of debt. Dr Scott Stanley, professor of psychology at the University of Denver, opines that “It is pretty common to find out that the person you married has more debt and less income than you realized.” This is a “negative dowry” effect.  There used to be such a thing as a dowry, defined as property or money brought by a bride to her husband during their marriage. Also, a “hope chest” was a common furniture item where women would add items of value or family heirlooms to bring into their marriage for legacy building. These traditions are a thing of the past. The way a couple deals with this “new normal” predicts the success or failure of their relationship. 

To overcome this land mine, there must be emotional safety in the relationship defined as the ability to be honest, vulnerable, and be able to discuss this issue openly. Stanley recommends that couples view themselves as two separate individuals with a shared third identity: me, you, and us. A way to diffuse conflict when both individuals are working and sharing duties at home is a shared bank account with each partner having their accounts that are used by each individual but disclosed to one another with trust and transparency. For relationships to be successful, both partners need to contribute equally regarding effort and finances.  If one person feels that he or she is the only one contributing to the success of the union, resentment will run high, and the relationship equilibrium will be negatively affected.

On a positive note, today’s couples have the amazing opportunity to design and reimagine how their relationship is going to operate, not having to align with the roles of the past, ensuring the relationship is defined by full disclosure, honesty, transparency, and respect. This is the pathway to avoiding the relationship landmine. joneen@narme.org