Updated: Jun 3
Part 4 in the What love is all about series
It might seem as though money brings happiness, but the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce demonstrates that money sure doesn’t guarantee happiness in love. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard might chime in on this as well. So I guess we can let go of that fantasy.
But if money doesn’t guarantee happiness when it comes to love, money problems do guarantee a lot of unhappiness. And in that sense, love IS about money. Not that we get together with someone for the money, but that money issues will tell the tale of what happens to love in so many cases.
How can this be? Aren’t we above all this?
Most of us aren’t. It’s simple really. Money issues, like contaminated drinking water, are a source of two huge relationship destroyers: stress and conflict.
Let’s look at stress first. Maybe when you’re young and broke you can live on moonbeams and day-old doughnuts. But that gets old after a while, and if kids enter the picture it gets real old real fast. If you’re always worried about how you’re going to pay the rent, stress grabs hold of you. That’s what happened with my husband and me, after we’d been in grad school abroad and came back to the States with two little kids and had to live on moonbeams and three-day-old doughnuts.
And stress works in a very specific way. It damages your ability to focus on one another, to be nice to one another. You change from being lovebirds to being snipes or bitterns. You’re bitter and you snipe at one another. Stress destroys your ability to even see one another. You’re sucked down into a vortex of worry.
This doesn’t have to come from just not having enough money. It can come from your having different ways of dealing with money. What if Joe’s supposed to pay the bills, but he’s slow and careless about doing it, so you’re always getting collection notices or threats of things being shut off? Stress! Worry! “How can I be nice to you, how can I even SEE you, when I feel I’m drowning!?!?!”
Then there’s the conflict part. You don’t need stress for conflict over money to grab hold of you. If Joe’s slow and careless paying the bills, causing you stress and worry, you’re only one short step away from the arguments piling up just as the bills pile up.
“Do it my way!”
“You can’t make me do it your way! I’m just fine doing it MY way.”
Anywhere there’s a difference between you when it comes to money, there’s a source of conflict.
One of you makes more money than the other? Okay, then who calls the shots?
One of you like to spend, the other likes to save? How’s that not going to end up as an endless tug of war?
One of you can always go to their parents for money? That sure gives those parents a lot of power in your relationship.
The list is endless.
Now, add stress to the conflict. Now you’re not just fighting about differences but about scarcity, risk, danger. Well, now it’s not hard for all hell to break loose.
And THAT’S why we can say love is about money, the way wandering around in the desert is all about water.
So what do you do about this?
I’m tempted to say, “Get more money,” but then you’d think I’m a jerk. But I’d certainly say that having children before you’re on steady financial footing is foolish. Kids are a stressor. Money issues are a stressor. Add the two together? You’ve got trouble with a capital T.
Something you can do if it isn’t too late is avoid partnering with anyone who has money issues or whose values and behaviors around money are out of sync with yours. Otherwise—as you’re probably finding out—it’s a recipe for disaster.
Another thing you can do is set up the following system. Believe me, it’s what works best:
1. Decide—based on income and responsibility—who’s in charge of paying for what. This can be a tough discussion, but work it out.
2. Separate your money. Don’t pool it. Each of you is in charge of what you earn. Each of you has their own accounts, their own credit cards. What if one of you isn’t working outside the house? No problem! The person who is earning money at the time puts a certain amount each month or week in that person’s account for that person to spend on what you two have agreed that person is responsible for buying.
3. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest fee-based financial planner (maybe your bank can do this for you) and find out how much you’re going to need to retire and therefore how much you’re going to need to be putting away starting now to meet that goal. Whatever that amount is, religiously put it away. As a sacred duty. You don’t want to end up old, broke, and hating each other.
This is the short version, but I’m telling you: if you do just this, both your relationship and your balance sheet will be in good shape.
And as for being able to talk about the things I’ve mentioned, if you can’t discuss things without arguing, well, that’s JUST why we wrote Why Couples Fight! Get your hands on it fast, and not only will you end up happy together, you might end up rich too!