Money and the financial stress that often accompanies it can take a big toll on a marriage. In fact, one of the leading causes of divorce is finances. While it may be a heated topic, there are practical steps you can take to help alleviate the stress money may be having on your marriage.
1. Take Financial Responsibility
Empower yourself to learn about your finances. While most young couples enter a relationship knowing very little about what it means to be married, they are often even more clueless about money. How do I make a budget? How much should I be saving? Are we living beyond our means? As it is common that spouses will have different approaches to spending, conflict around these issues is inevitable. One of the smartest steps you can take is to meet with a financial planner who can guide you and educate you about your finances. Money stirs up a host of emotions and therefore it can become challenging to make responsible decisions. A third party who can advise you based on cold hard facts will help remove unnecessary stress from your relationship.
2. Understand Your Relationship with Money
Financial stress or unemployment can bring out the worst in a couple as it plays on some of our most primal fears. In Drs Pat Love and Steve Stosny’s book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, they posit that the underlying root of marital conflict and disconnection is fear and shame. Men are hard-wired to provide for their family (hunter-gatherer anyone?), so if they do not succeed in this mission they feel ashamed. This sense of failure is debilitating to a man and stronger than his fear for survival.
On the other hand, the primary emotion women experience when they are not provided for is fear. They are more concerned about starving to death than feeling ashamed for lacking. While much has changed in our society in terms of gender roles, we often find that men still need to feel like successful providers. Being unemployed or stuck in a dead-end job can be devastating to a man. This shame provokes his wife’s fear and sets up the vicious fear-shame cycle. As she becomes more afraid of his failure to provide, she pressures him to take action. This leads him to feel more ashamed and often less productive.
When a husband and wife can be conscious that their fear and shame are actually fueling each other’s anxiety and validate the other’s concerns, they can break the cycle. This enables them to be calm and more productive in resolving the issue.
3. Improve Your Marriage
While money woes can throw a marriage for a loop, it is often symptomatic of a greater problem. We all experience stressors, yet we deal with them differently. Money can serve as a barometer for our relationship health as it is at the top of our hierarchy of needs. In fact, the Talmud comments that a poor person is considered as if he is dead (Nedarim 64b). When we don’t have money we instinctively slip into survival mode. The better we can handle stress in our relationship and the stronger the relationship is at its core, the less damaging effect money can have on it. A relationship which is healthy and solid will not be easily toppled by even a big stressor while a marriage which is hanging by a thread will have trouble withstanding even the slightest tension.
Fortifying your connection is the best way to enable you to deal with any stressor that comes your way. Even when money issues arise, you will be better able to communicate and work together to take productive steps towards resolving the matter without getting reactive and stuck in your defenses.
While financial stress can easily destroy a marriage, if you take responsibility for your finances, understand your unconscious relationship to money, and work on strengthening your marriage, you will be able to weather the storm and emerge with an even stronger relationship.
If your marriage requires more immediate assistance, download your free copy of Rabbi Slatkin’s book, Is My Marriage Over: The Five Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage