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Angie's "Under Construction"

We are constantly changing and growing. We learn new things everyday whether from ourselves or from the relationships and families we are involved in. We can become stronger, healthier and happier by the way we treat others, view ourselves and experience the world around us.

This column by Associate Marriage & Family Therapist Angie Cerniglia explores the fascinating world of relationships and the multiple parts of ourselves. We are beautifully and wonderfully made and since God is never really finished molding us, we are therefore, always, Under Construction.


 

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Money and Marriage: Your Path For Success

March 08, 2016
By Angie, Cerniglia, MA, AMFT, LPC

If the post “Budget Blunders” piqued your interest, and you’ve come here for more information and an outline to help you talk about money, you’re in the right spot. Let’s put this out there—there is no perfect way for a couple to deal with finances. For example, some couples I know keep their money separate, others combine finances, some budget and still others fly by the seat of their pants. The question isn’t how do you currently handle money as a couple; the real question is: is it working for you?  If it is, fantastic!  If it’s not, and finances are a constant source of strife in your relationship, then it’s clear that you need a different strategy. So how do you even begin to tackle the issue of finances? Below are some tips and suggestions to help you climb that mountain and make it down the other side (maybe even holding hands).

First step: figure out if the issue is really just about money or if something else is occurring in the relationship. Take some time to self-reflect on what is happening for you as an individual before going to your spouse with a possible deeper issue. As mentioned in my previous post, process what it feels like when you talk about money with your spouse or what fears you may have surrounding a conversation about money. Gaining insight into your own feelings will lead to a much more productive conversation with your partner. Here are some questions to help guide you on processing what’s happening for you individually:

  • Do you feel unvalued in the role you play in your family or relationship?
  • Do you feel unconnected as a couple?
  • Do you struggle to communicate effectively in other areas of your relationship?
  • Do you feel judged by your partner in the way you handle finances?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, or to one you thought of yourself, don’t forget to ask yourself why you feel that way. Once you’ve gained insight and discovered if there is a deeper issue underneath the financial stress, it’s time to sit down and have a productive conversation involving listening, validating and empathizing with your spouse.  Let your partner know the insights you’ve gained into what may be happening for you and ask him or her to help you understand his or her thoughts and feelings on the topic too. When you both truly feel understood, heard and validated it’s time to move onto phase two: talking about money.

This step is equally as important as step one. Be careful not to make the mistake most couples do and jump straight to step three: negotiating a budget. Once you have tackled any other issues happening in addition to the financial ones, step two is to understand how each of you view money, handle money and what goals you have for your finances. Here are some topics and questions to discuss as a couple and ponder individually to help you answer each of those three points.

  • Talk about how money was viewed in the family you were raised in. Was it talked about? Not talked about? Was having enough money never an issue or were you aware money was tight for your family?
  • Talk about how you have used money and a budget in your adult life. Did you start working at a young age and count every penny as you grew older? Did you not think about it much?
  • Talk about your individual financial goals for the future. Is saving for something specific really important to you? Is spending more money on fun or experiences something you would like to see happen?
  • Talk about the financial goals you both want for your family. Is it important for you to pay for your children’s continued education or do you feel they should pay their own way? Are you hoping to save for a new car or house? What are your thoughts on your retirement plan?

After you have completed step two take a break, eat a cookie, and pat yourselves on the back—this is no easy thing to discuss!  After much insight and active listening step three will begin to seem like a piece of cake instead of an impossible feat. Step three is: finally discussing how you as a team would like to handle your finances. It’s time to find a compromise between your individual financial goals and the goals for your family while taking a realistic look at your financial situation. While budgets may get a bad rap they are a quick and efficient way to look at those areas. A budget will allow you to look at what money you have coming in, what money you have going out for necessary bills and what money you will have for the new joint goals you’ve created for yourselves.

If you are struggling to create a budget, consult some help! If you have a financial advisor or money savvy friend that can be valuable. However, from personal experience Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class and any of his books can be helpful tools for the average person to learn how to handle their money. His website even offers helpful tips and simple budget samples. My final tip for you is to set up a monthly meeting to check in on your goals and with each other. You may be surprised to find that when you start taking control of your money together what was a wedge in your relationship has become the glue that makes it stronger. Here are some things that surprised me after my husband and I started budgeting:

  • After the first month or two, it started to become easy (I was shocked).
  • We felt in charge of our money.
  • I realized we could still spend money.
  • I no longer felt guilty about shopping or spending money because we planned for it.
  • I got excited about meeting our goals together.

Money and marriage does not have to be a toxic combination when the conversation is held in an insightful and productive way. Just like every couple handles money differently you can tailor this layout to your needs as a couple. If you determine if there are other relationship issues contributing to your financial stress dig into how you and your spouse view money, renegotiate where your money goes with compromise (and maybe a budget).  You will start to feel empowered and your finances should no longer be a source of strife but a solid block in the foundation of your marriage.