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Couples and Finance Issues

Arguments about money hamper many marriages. When you consider that about a third of adults with partners report that money is a big source of conflict in their relationships, it's no wonder that financial problems are a leading cause of divorce.12 What you may not know is that the challenges can actually start even before you say "I do."

The best way to handle such marriage stressors is with communication and honesty in conveying expectations, hopes, goals, and anxieties. Couples should also practice empathy, have the maturity to check their egos, and abandon any predilection for control. Yes, that's much easier said than done. And no, there is no silver bullet.

Sometimes, when each spouse works and they can't agree on financial issues or find the time to talk about them, they decide to split the bills down the middle or allocate them in some other fair and equitable manner. When the bills have been covered, each spouse can spend what they have left as they see fit. It sounds like a reasonable plan, but the process often builds resentment over the individual purchases made. It also divides spending power, eliminating much of the financial value of marriage, as well as the ability to plan for long-term goals such as buying a home or securing retirement. And it can lead to relationship-ruining behavior like financial infidelity, wherein one spouse hides money from the other.

Bill splitting also pushes down the road any planning and consensus-building about how financial burdens will be handled if one spouse loses a job; decides to cut back on hours or take a pay cut to try out a new career; leaves the workforce to raise children, go back to school, or care for a parent; or if there's any other situation in which one partner may have to financially support the other. Couples owe it to themselves to have a conversation about such contingencies well before any of them happens.

Some people may never get it right, but that doesn't mean they can't employ certain tools and techniques to address the symptoms.

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