Money-related conflicts can break marriages

In an age where both husband and wife bring home fat paychecks, various conflicts may arise due to money. Discussing such issues before marriage is a wise solution

CoupleIn an age where both husband and wife bring home fat paychecks, various conflicts may arise due to money. Discussing such issues before marriage is a wise solution.

Yours, mine and ours - that's money in marriage. Today, more and more urban women are financially and sexually liberated owing to successful careers and a growing awareness and unhindered expression of their own sexuality. So, money and sex are often the reasons of conflict between partners.

While most people cringe at the thought of discussing money pre-maritally when they are seeing the relationship in rosy hues, it is a grave error not to do so. When the "my" money, "your" money, and "our" money concepts are unclear in the relationship, there can be a major problem.

The traditional roles of men and women, where men provided and the women looked after the home, are often mixed up today, with the need for equality because men and women, both are bringing home fat paychecks. The growing trends of consumerism and wanting to live a "better life", also often requires pooling of both incomes to make a "lifestyle" happen.

Therefore, it is not only important to be conscious of your own financial assumptions and values along with the financial lifestyle you envision for yourself, but to communicate the same clearly to your partner at the pre-marital stage in order to avoid a breakdown of the relationship based on money.

The conflicts

Kavita and Sagar had differences in money matters. They had separate accounts on the insistence of Kavita, and Sagar resented having to meet all the household expenses from his income. The marriage fell apart when she wanted her separate account to be able to spend freely for herself, as she regarded Sagar a miser. She thought the "it's my money and not your money" talk would keep him quiet when she made a personal purchase. On the other hand, Sagar saw it as her not wanting to be a "couple" but to want to live as two independent individuals, because of which he would resent spending on home expenses and expected her to equally share those. He resented that "his" money was for joint expenses but "her" money was purely hers, and they fell apart on this one issue.

Today more and more couples are heading to the family courts for divorce within the first three years of marriage. "Incompatibility" is a much-used general term to explain the reason for a legal separation, which, in actuality, means irreconcilable differences.

Your conditioning is different from your partner's, your experiences are different, you might have come from a different background and cultural upbringing, with different priorities and having a different scale of values, and therefore your frame of reference is bound to be different from your partner in all matters. So, is it possible for both of you to co-exist in harmony?

The answer lies not in the differences, but in the awareness of those differences, and in the ability and willingness to find win-win ways of making the relationship a meaningful and fulfilling experience for both, without allowing the spirit of either one of the partners to be sacrificed in the bargain. Therefore, it would not be incorrect to say that it is not the differences, but what you do with them that determines the success or failure of the marriage.

Of course, there are some very vital and closely-shared areas of a relationship in which the differences can completely erode the very fabric of the relationship. One of them is the difference in financial values wherein one partner wants to spend freely and often impulsively today [Motto - Eat, drink and be merry], and the other wants to budget and save for tomorrow [Motto - Save for a rainy day]; or then one wants to keep separate accounts for the separate incomes of both and the other wants everything to be joint, whether the income or the expenditure. This can create bitterness and distance.

Another area is the difference in spending styles and parenting styles regarding money, wherein one parent spoils the child by providing too much too soon, and the other believes in teaching the child to value money and delay gratification, and not give in impulsively for instant gratification. Differences in the classification of expenditure as needs, comforts and luxuries, is another breeding ground for conflict in a marital relationship.

Find a level ground

We believe, however, that in spite of differences, it is always possible to meet somewhere in the middle if both introspect into themselves and resolve to change their own flawed and rigidly-held assumptions and beliefs.

In the past, the stereotypical life of the man as the provider and the woman as a nurturer, and marriages arranged within the same community, created a more or less fixed vision of "marital life", and therefore, did not require much talking in terms of sharing a life together.

But today, things are different. Cross-cultural marriages, inter-religious marriages, committed couples not marrying but choosing a live-in relationship, women having careers, both bringing in fat paychecks and both responsible for home, house-husbands with part-time careers, work requiring travel for one or both with a lot of time apart, adoption as an option, both having separate spiritual beliefs/lifestyles and so on require a lot of frank talk about the pragmatic side of sharing life together. Couples often do not have role models to learn from because of so many variables in their unique relationship. To add to this, if you have divorced parents, then you are clueless. All this put together makes it necessary that a shared vision of life be co-created through open dialogue and empathic negotiation, so that both "feel good" about their "life" together.

Therefore, since "prevention is better than cure", it is imperative that committed couples start getting radically and painfully honest with themselves and with their partner before tying the knot, and talk about important issues such as money, which is usually left unaddressed in the midst of all the heady romantic talk.

The issues to be discussed, though awkward in the midst of all the love and romance, are essential to grow in self-knowledge and knowledge of the partner, so that a deeper, more authentic, more meaningful and fulfilling relationship develops between the two. The questions regarding these issues could reveal vital information regarding the core values, deeply-held beliefs, assumptions, perceptions, lifestyle, habits, behaviours, dreams and aspirations, which are crucial for you to know before agreeing to co-exist. Your partner's answers could stir up a host of emotions in you such as anxiety, anger, or fear, as it challenges your vision of "life" altogether.

But would you rather know now or know later, that is the question. Yes, it might blow away your utopian world and shatter your romantic fantasies. But then, would you rather have authentic and true intimacy based on complete knowledge of yourself and your partner, or would you rather be woken up with a rude shock later when reality strikes. Your illusion can be broken sooner or later, which do you prefer?

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Minnu Bhonsle
Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.

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