Till debt do us part

Dealing with debt stress as a couple. Written by psychologist Lauren Claassen

According to The Dollar Stretcher, financial reasons are cited as one of the major causes of couples who got or who are in the process of getting divorced. Approximately 80% of couples expressed that financial difficulties led to irreconcilable differences amongst them, as financial strain led to a number of marital problems. Debt is also said to be one of the leading causes of family strife during the first couple of years of marriage.

Money, for the lack of a better term, means different things to different people. As such, money may also play a different role within different relationships. Money may be perceived purely and simply as the economic medium of exchange, namely a means of satisfying our different wants and needs. Money could also be perceived as an indicator of security, a sign that someone is safe and reliable or unstable and unreliable. To some, money could be just a necessary nuisance of life. And, finally, money may also be a symbol of power, status and success. Interestingly, within my own line of work, many individuals have indicated that the amount of money they earn has a direct influence on whether they feel successful and powerful within their careers. Subsequently, it is a personal indication of how much they value themselves within society.

Have you ever considered that you may be financially incompatible within your relationship? Have you considered that your perception of money could be a ‘deal breaker’? This means that money may be perceived vastly differently by the different partners within the relationship.

For example, within a hypothetical relationship, one partner may view money as a means to display affection towards the other partner, through the love language of gift giving. For the other, money could be viewed a scarce resource, not to be wasted and therefore only utilised when absolutely necessary. ‘We don’t need this’ may be something you have heard before, which in itself could causes a sense of conflict between partners as they do not view money through the same lens. This could possibly result in the one partner’s feeling guilty for receiving a gift as it is viewed as an unnecessary luxury. In tandem, the other partner would feel ‘unloved’ as their gift would not have been reciprocated by a suitable response.

Financial stress in the form of debt obligations, can therefore be the cause of additional emotional strain within a relationship that could possibly lead to divorce. I’m not saying that the Gift-Giving-Gilly’s and the Stingy-Stewart’s aren’t compatible; I’m simply focusing on the fact that you and your partner need to sing from the same financial hymn sheet when making decisions of a monetary nature. The goal is thus to marry the two, possibly, very different financial world views, which also means finding a middle ground that works for both partners.

Whether you’re thinking about getting married or whether you have been married for some time, I’d recommend the following financial wedding registry:

– As a couple, create room within your relationship to communicate honestly and openly about your personal financial world views as well as what role money plays or has played within your own life.

– Be willing to accommodate and tolerate your partner’s different financial world view.

– Craft a shared financial vision which encompasses specific, attainable, measureable, reasonable and time-bound (SMART) financial goals.

– Create a shared monthly budget to share the various financial responsibilities around the house … and stick to it.

– Monitor your joint spending regularly and compare it with your previously created joint budget.

– Make important financial decisions together, such as entering into mortgage bonds.

– Calculate your joint net value, that is, the total market value of your assets less the total market value of your current obligations.

– Address the shared financial risks by creating a risk register of the significant financial risks that you may incur in the foreseeable future by identifying the risk, describing it, estimating its probability, quantifying its effect and, finally, by creating contingency plans to mitigate its effect.

– Consider approaching a Registered Financial Planner for professional assistance regarding your shared tax affairs and your estate planning.

Money can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best in people. As with most things in life, the decision rests with you whether or not money will be a deal breaker to end your relationship or be a tool to enhance your relationship.

In conclusion, an important characteristic of a successful relationship is having the willingness of each partner to compromise part of their value system in order to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Therefore, my advice to you, dear reader, is to consider what role money is playing in your life and subsequently its effect on your relationship.

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