The Secret to a Happy Marriage – Financially Speaking

The Secret to a Happy Marriage Financially Speaking Header ImageFor many engaged couples, the wedding looms large as a major financial planning issue. But once it’s over and done, “real life” starts – and real life is infamous for its twists and turns.

One typical plot twist? Money. Financial issues can be a major source of stress for couples.

One study even found that money conflicts early in a marriage are the top predictor of divorce later on. And that’s even after accounting for wealth, income, and debt levels, according to authors Jeffrey Dew, Sonya Britt, and Sandra Huston.

For some reason, financial arguments tend to be nastier than others, and they have a significant negative impact on marital satisfaction – both of which make money conflict such a strong predictor of divorce.

In other words, one of the best ways to help secure your relationship is to help reduce the intensity and costs of those conflicts.

Here’s how.

Communicate. Properly!

One of the unfortunate realities of married life is that you won’t always agree – no matter how in synch you are otherwise. That makes productive and supportive communication all the more important.

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But how do you do it?

According to HelpGuide.org, a mental health resource built in collaboration with Harvard Health, constructive communication has several key components.

Those include:

  • Engaged listening
  • Managing stress in the moment
  • The use of body language
  • The ability to be assertive about your needs
  • The ability to recognize your emotions and the emotions of your partner

By contrast, the major barriers to good communication are:

  • Being stressed and emotionally overwhelmed
  • A lack of focus on the person you’re speaking to
  • Conflicting body language, where your words don’t match your physical gestures
  • Negative body language, like crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact, or tapping your feet

To do more of the former and less of the latter, you’ll want to build your toolkit of effective communication skills.

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Learn how to engage in active listening

Communicating is deeply reliant on listening – that means really hearing what your partner is saying and making sure you understand both the words and, to the extent possible, the emotional subtext.

Practice these skills the next time you speak to your partner:

  • Focus completely on him or her. That means putting down other distractions, facing your loved one, and showing your interest in what is being said by nodding or making encouraging verbal comments like “uh huh.”
  • Resist the urge to react, interrupt, or redirect the conversation. As HelpGuide so succinctly puts it, “listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk.” Focus your attention on simply absorbing what your partner is saying without adding to it, contradicting it, or changing the subject.
  • Reiterate what your partner has said. When it’s your turn to speak, restate what your partner has said using your own words. This will give your partner feedback as to what those words meant to you. For example, you can start with “What I’m hearing is…” or “It sounds like you’re saying…”
  • Ask clarifying questions. If you’re not certain about your partner’s meaning, you can simply ask. Questions like “What do you mean when you say…” or “Is this what you meant?” can both reflect your perceptions and engage your partner in clarifying their thoughts.

Obviously, your loved one might look at you funny if you take such an active role in their account of going to the gym, but focused attention is very often a welcomed gesture no matter what the context.

Try it – and try to stick with it. The practice will pay off, especially if you start down a difficult conversational path.

Be aware of body language

At the first sign of stress or an argument, check with yourself. How are you sitting? What’s your facial expression?

You can significantly improve communications by simply changing the way you’ve positioned yourself. Uncross your arms, maintain soft eye contact, relax your jaw, and sit or stand in an “open” position, without blocking your body using your arms, legs, or objects.

From there, stay aware of your tone of voice and whether it’s appropriate for the context. Are you sounding authoritative when you want to be helpful? Angry when you’re really concerned?

Stay calm in expressing yourself

Letting your emotions run away from you will not get your point across better, nor will it effectively communicate your needs.

Of course, being calm when there’s conflict is anything but easy.

Try these tactics:

  • Pause for a moment. Go to the bathroom to take few deep breaths, ask for clarification if you need it, or just take some time to think before continuing the conversation.
  • Slow down your speaking. This can require practice, but deliberately slowing down can give you more time to consider what you’re saying and how you say it.
  • Look for humor or common ground. Sometimes there is no “right” answer except preserving the bond and finding a solution both parties can be happy with.
  • Agree to revisit the topic. If you need to, agree to pause and speak again later when you’ve had time to reflect and cool off.

Remember that how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate because it can either add to or detract from your message.

Your opinions and needs are important, so make sure they get airtime and a context conducive to listening. By keeping your emotions in check you’ll also be able to express negative thoughts or feelings in a more respectful way and receive feedback from others.

Finally: Try to determine what the argument is really about

The drivers of financial arguments are often specific issues, like job loss, high debt levels, or discrepancies in the way you handle expenses. But as the divorce study’s authors point out, arguments about money can also be arguments about other things – including issues of trust or even power.

Try to step back and get to the issue at hand. What’s this really about? Is it a practical problem or are there conflicting or deeper feelings involved? Is one of you hurting?

These can be hard questions to answer, which is why it’s important to approach financial disagreements with compassion – both for yourself and for your partner. A toolkit of effective communication strategies also helps.

This way, you can have a better chance of tackling the issue at the heart of the matter in a more productive way – and in a way that brings you closer together, rather than driving you apart.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Premarital counseling is pretty popular these days, and for good reason. Counseling can help bring complicated issues to light and help you find the communication and emotional tools to deal with them.

For many couples, it could also make sense to speak to a financial advisor who can act as an objective expert and even help to guide financial discussions. An advisor can also give you advice for tackling some of your practical financial challenges and find appropriate ways to plan for the future.

If you can help build emotional support and cooperation into your relationship, you’re already taking a big step. Just remember, sometimes it takes a village to help learn those skills and implement the decisions that are right for your situation.

Getting help and support can be a key feature of reducing financial stress and the emotional concerns around it.

Don’t forget to communicate – about kids!

While planning for marriage is one major milestone, for other couples the big picture involves children.

Communication is certainly important on this front as well, but so is appropriate financial preparation. Are you ready? Download our free guide to preparing your family finances and estate plan for your future progeny – but remember, it’s a great resource even if you already have kids.

Download Making (Financial) Space for Baby: A Guide for New Parents today!

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A new baby is the start of an incredible journey – one that usually involves more than a little personal growth.

Let Us Help!

We can discuss this topic and more at a complimentary appointment. As a bay area retirement planning coaches, we can give you a review and make suggestions based on your retirement objectives.

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Important DisclosuresThe opinions voiced in this article are for general information only. They are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual and do not constitute an endorsement by UNITED PLANNERS.

To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial professional. Please remember that investment decisions should be based on an individual’s goals, time horizon, and tolerance for risk.

Neither diversification nor asset allocation can ensure a profit or prevention of loss in times of declining values.

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Further Reading

Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00715.x/abstract
http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jul13/predictingdivorce71113.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/12/divorce-study_n_3587811.html

Building effective communication:
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships/effective-communication.htm

Premarital counseling popularity and efficacy:
https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2017/01/10/every-couple-can-use-these-four-lessons-from-pre-marriage-counseling/L2Kg3tN6EgXmJqOOHZsyNK/story.html

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