Marriage is a wonderful thing.
Making the adjustment to being married, particularly if you have been single for a while can be a challenge though. When you are single, you become accustomed to coming and going when and where you want, doing what you want, buying what you want, etc. After you say I do, those decisions are no longer purely yours to make.
Done well marriage can be like a pair of trained Clydesdales working together to pull a load that neither one could budge on their own. Done poorly it like a tug of war competition where two sides struggle to impose their will on the other.
When you choose to marry you need to understand that your pronouns change. Before you walk down the aisle everything is his and hers. After you get married your pronouns change to ours.
This is especially important when it comes to money. After you are married, your financial assets as well as your liabilities become shared.
In the older versions of the marriage vows, this was even a part of the marriage ceremony. In the 1789 Book Of Common Prayers, a part of the marriage ceremony included the words:
WITH this Ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
It is probably an unfortunate thing that this language has fallen out of favor. Because financial disagreements are one of the leading causes of divorce, it is apparent that coming to a shared agreement on financially related topics is often a sadly neglected area of our marriages.
I think there are four areas where a proper understanding of our new pronouns is vital in having a happy marriage.
Prior to getting married, it is always best to keep your debts separate. Purchasing a house, co-signing a loan, or signing together on any other kind of debt is a really bad idea. Even helping your significant other pay off their debt can be risky unless you are willing to see the money as a gift. I know you are in love and nothing will ever come between you. But the truth is we have all known people who were even engaged to be married and yet something happened to pull them apart. Until you say “I do” it is best to keep your finances his and hers.
However, once you take that plunge, all of the debt becomes ours. WE have debt and WE will work a plan to get it paid off.
I think where this can become problematic is when one spouse enters the marriage with significantly more debt than the other. The spouse who brought a ton of debt may feel some guilt for the impact that debt will have on their future. They might even feel like it is their responsibility to clean up their mess. This is natural and probably to be expected, but when you are married the Bible says the two become one. That applies equally well to your debt.
And finally I would add, if you are the spouse that came into the relationship with very little debt, please don’t ever use that debt to lay a guilt trip on your spouse. You agreed to marry your spouse for better or worse. That debt might be a part of the “worse”, and frankly if paying off some debt is the “worst” thing you have to face together, chances are you will have had a very blessed life.
Before marriage he has an income and she has an income. After marriage we have an income.
I believe there are two areas where this can become difficult.
If one spouse makes significantly more than the other, there can sometimes be a tendency for the higher earner to feel like they should control the family finances because, after all, it’s “his (or her)”money. That is dangerous and immature. Never use money as a means for controlling your spouse.
Secondly, particularly for those who have been single for a long time, I think we can just become accustomed to it being our money to do with as we desire. Recognizing there is now another vote that needs to be considered when spending that money can be an adjustment.
Lastly, if you are a Christian the real root issue here is one of ownership. The truth is as Christians it really isn’t his money and her money and it is also not our money either. Really it is God’s money that he has given us to use in a way that brings glory to him. When we understand that, the control issue starts to fade.
I think it is advisable when a couple is planning to be married for them to put together a mock budget laying out how they would spend their money if they were married. Working out those issues before saying “I do” will give you a big head start on a healthy marriage. While it is important to have discussed these things prior to marriage, it is best to keep those finances separate until after you are married.
After your marriage though you should work together to create a budget or spending plan. It is common that one spouse or the other may have more interest in details and finances than the other. This is just one more way a husband and wife can complement each other. It is fine if the more detail oriented person puts together the spending plan.
However, it is critical that both come together each month to review that spending plan, and it is vital that both the husband and the wife feel like they have a vote in how that money is spent.
I truly believe that there is little a couple can’t accomplish given enough time and when they are on the same page and pulling in the same direction. From a financial standpoint the roots of this are found in that spending plan.
Lastly, and this really is the foundation for all three of the above items, I think it is really important for a couple to spend time dreaming together.
Many times we focus so much on what we want to do and how we want to do it that we lose site of the why. The why is the glue that holds it all together.
When you dream together of the life you hope to build, it will help spur you on to working together to follow that spending plan that allows you to use that shared income to pay off those debts. You can do it because you have a dream you are working toward.
The one caveat
There is one circumstance where I think it may be ok to maintain some degree of separation even after marriage. If one spouse suffers from addictions or is habitually irresponsible with money then it may be wise to maintain a separation of finances for a time.
However, if you find yourself in this situation. then that separation should also be accompanied by the appropriate counseling that is needed to work past these issues. Spending the rest of your life keeping finances separated because you just can’t trust him or her is a recipe for divorce. Keeping the money separated should only be a temporary state that is maintained only to allow healing to take place.
Get your marriage pronouns right
It is sad but perhaps not all that surprising that money related fights make up the leading cause of divorce. Marriage should be more than just two roommates sharing the same home but leading separate lives. Accepting our debts, working together on a spending plan for our income, all of which designed to help us achieve our dreams is a key to building a marriage that will last.