WASHINGTON - Ah, love and money -- you'd think they have nothing to do with each other. There's the whole money can't buy you love; the best things in life are free creed that most of us hold dear.
But in fact, finances can rend a couple asunder quicker than just about anything else. This may be more true now than ever before, with many households having financial problems; men and women redefining who (and what) a breadwinner is, and credit problems dooming some couples before they fully connect.
Here, for Valentine's Day, is a review of some of these current financial/love issues, and some advice for the lovelorn (or monetarily challenged) about how to handle them.
-- You're dating someone new and you have a bad credit history. Spill it, the sooner the better. Perhaps not on the first or second date, but as soon as you know the relationship is moving in a serious direction. If you're going to tell them about every relationship you ever had and your deepest darkest secrets, there's no reason not to share the sordid details of your financial life early on, says Adam Levin of Credit.com. How you tell them -- over dinner or at your computer, or by handing over your credit file -- matters less than that it becomes part of the discussion. It's good if you've already arrested the problem on your own, and can present your pay-down plan at the same time as you confess your debts. It's even better if this just becomes one more issue for the two of you to confront together. But if it doesn't build a better relationship, it's better that you know now, says Levin.
-- Job loss is wrecking the mood. Household stress is always elevated when there's not enough money coming in to pay the bills, but when one spouse feels like the other is spending too much time on the sofa wallowing in self-pity and not enough time hunting for a job, that's when things can get really bad, says Marie Hartwell-Walker, an Amherst, Massachusetts, therapist. It's key, in that situation, to keep blame and attacks out of the conversation, and to approach the joblessness and its accompanying depression as a problem to be solved together by the couple as a unit. Find a way to talk about it that keeps the relationship safe, she says. How are we together going to be a good team and keep our family afloat during hard times? It also helps to confine those discussions about money and work to specific times and places, so they don't take over your whole life. Agree, for example, to discuss the family budget or the job hunt on Tuesday mornings over coffee.
-- The woman of the house has become the main breadwinner. This isn't a problem, especially for younger couples who may have different expectations about gender roles in the family, observes Hartwell-Walker. And it's certainly more common. Wives now outearn their husbands in one of every five marriages, according to new research from the Pew Research Center. But older couples may feel it's a role reversal that makes them uncomfortable or resentful. If that's the case, she suggests that you consider yourselves pioneers in a new situation. You may be reinventing how your household works, how marriage works, and how your family does things. You can get rid of some of the stress simply by doing a chore calendar so that household partners feel they each are contributing their fair share. Separate the issue of money from the workload issues that are sure to arise, she suggests. Work on making sure that the careers and jobs of both partners are respected, even if they earn sharply disparate salaries.
-- You're not on the same page. One of you is a spender, the other is a saver. One is a talker, the other doesn't like to give voice to money issues. Couples polarize about money, and often, the longer they are together, the more polarized they will be. This isn't so bad; without realizing it you are checking each other. The saver may be keeping a lid on the spender's debts, while the spender may be making sure the saver enjoys herself once in a while. But to manage dissimilar money styles, it's important to identify them and draw parameters for how to manage the differences. The best solutions are ones where each partner allows the other to influence them a little bit. Sometimes, you can simply create specific-dollar amount rules to take care of touchy situations. Plan ahead to have actual money and budget meetings, instead of catching each other on the fly, or when you're tired, cranky, or upset about other things.
-- You're getting married. Congratulations! But before you walk down the aisle, talk about how your family will manage money. The American Bankers Association Education Foundation advises couples to nail down all of the specifics, such who will physically write the check (or click the link) that pays each bill, who will monitor investments and whether you'll attack any debts that you have as a couple, or as two individuals. Set a rule for how much each of you can spend without having to check with your mate. One early way to test how well you work together and how well your financial styles mesh is to work as a team as you wrestle that wedding budget into shape.
(editing by Gunna Dickson)