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Oran Hall | The financial constraints on marital bliss

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Many marriage counsellors report that financial issues are the most common ones raised by couples seeking help to mend their relationship.

It seems, therefore, that money-related issues are the most likely ones to pull apart a husband and wife who have become one ‘for better or for worse’.

Considering that husband and wife come from families having their own unique family culture, including how they relate to money, it is not surprising that there are differences in how each relates to money. How well they are able to manoeuvre around this mine field rests heavily on the foundation they build and the understanding they develop, starting with the period of courtship.

Many times, the expenses associated with the wedding and with setting up house may put early stress on the new family, and if not managed well, may do serious harm.

Some time ago, I heard a then recent-married woman say that she made a profit from her wedding. I doubt she saw it as a business arrangement, and I’m tempted to believe she was suggesting that the gifts she received valued more than she spent. Lucky woman!

I should have asked her how she did it. Perhaps she and her beloved made a good budget and stuck to it. It is likely that they got help from close relatives and friends and chose a good venue that did not cost ‘an arm and a leg’.

They, no doubt, selected very carefully a wide range of items at varying prices as gifts they preferred and probably selected guests who valued them enough to give them such gifts so their setting-up expenses were manageable. I do know that they were able to purchase many of their household items for cash because they had saved well.

So they did not start their new life in debt. Contrast her situation to that of many others who start their new life in debt. What an albatross that can be around the necks of a new couple! How liberating it can be to start married life without the burden of debt, which tends to increase stress and conflict.

Apart from debt that couples incur to fund their wedding, there is also debt that one or both parties incur prior to the wedding. Many people incur student loan debt, for example. This requires truthfulness and openness, and a clear understanding of how such obligations are to be managed must be established.

There should also be openness regarding any commitments to provide for the financial needs of other family members. Marriage should not necessarily disrupt such arrangements.

Openness is also required in respect of the income each person earns. In fact, it is reasonable to expect the family unit to merge resources and to have one spending plan. In cases in which there is a preference for one spouse to be responsible for specific expenses, each party should stick faithfully to that commitment.

Additionally, although the couple should take joint responsibility for its finances, the person better equipped to manage the finances should assume the lead role.

Notwithstanding the differences – in attitudes, approach to risk taking, values and money personality for example – it is imperative to arrive at a common ground by dialogue, tolerance, appreciating the individuality of each spouse, and patience. Two vastly different people will not become compatible overnight. Imagine a spendthrift and a cautious spender or a risk-taker and a risk-averse person becoming one.

Individuals do have their own values, priorities, and goals. These would almost certainly emerge during the period leading up to marriage, but neither of the couple needs to be short-changed. It will take patience and understanding and compromise to create a new paradigm focused on the family.

Critical to how well the new family culture emerges is how well each spouse understands self in regard to financial matters in particular. Thereafter, each should seek to understand the other member of the two-in-one unit.

Working as a unit requires trusting each other, understanding the background of the other, and being willing to appreciate the other person’s point of view.

Communication is critical to the maintenance of a healthy relationship. It may expose vulnerabilities, but it opens the door to solving relationship-threatening issues and enhances the chances for effective planning and goal setting.

Financial literacy is also useful in the maintenance of a strong relationship. In some cases, one can teach the other, but if necessary, third-party engagement should not be discounted.

For those who choose to say ‘I do’, be it in June or any other month, getting the finances right is key to making the marriage last.

- Oran A. Hall, the principal author of ‘ The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning’, offers personal financial planning advice and counsel.