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Archive for Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Couples duke it out over finances

February 13, 2007

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Every year around Valentine's Day, I get a number of surveys about love and money.

Although the results of these surveys rarely change, I continue to be dismayed by the findings. The latest comes from the online payment company, PayPal. In its "Can't Buy Me Love" survey, the company found that money trumps sex and housecleaning as the No. 1 issue that couples fight about.

Couples are still lying about their spending, according to this latest survey. Eighty-two percent of respondents said they hide shopping bags and purchases from their partner.

A majority of couples believe their spouse or partner is using money as a means of control in their relationship, including when and how they choose to shop.

Over the years, I've received many letters and e-mails from couples who are struggling to manage their money together. Usually it's because they failed to have meaningful financial discussions before the nuptials. Many couples spend a year or more planning their wedding ceremony and reception but less than a few hours - if that - figuring out how to deal with their money differences.

I've heard from married folk who refuse to divulge to their spouses their annual income. Others buy expensive items without consulting their mate. They hide bills. Or they argue over how to divide up the bills based on what each one makes.

In time for Valentine's Day, I invited people to write me to share their financial struggles. I volunteered to weigh in.

There was one letter that stood out. It illustrated what PayPal and other love-and-money surveys find: Too often one person in the partnership is too controlling. That's the case with one 54-year-old Maryland woman who responded to my query. She's been married for almost 25 years to an accountant. After their first child, she quit working outside the home.

"My husband set up a financial system that he controls completely," she wrote. "Basically, I don't have a clue about our finances. My participation in his system is to bring to him on a daily basis any charge receipts, ATM withdrawals and my checkbook. Financially we are comfortable, which I am grateful for, but it has come at a cost to me. There are no checks and balances. What he says goes. I am not his financial partner. I am no match when it comes to his financial knowledge and expertise."

She's desperate, she says.

"I have suggested to my husband that I want my own account that I can manage on my own. I want monthly money that is for my eyes only to spend and manage. I'm very responsible with money. My husband is totally against the idea. Would you please be so kind to suggest a way for me to untangle myself from this straitjacket?"

First, I would advise her or any spouse in this situation to have an honest discussion. Share your feelings. Talk about how controlled you feel, because this problem isn't just about the money. Marital counseling certainly would help. To locate a counselor check with The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (www.aamft .org).

In many marriages one person typically is the treasurer, taking care of paying the bills and managing the savings and investments.

But taking on the role of the money manager doesn't mean being a dictator. Decisions should be made jointly. If you're the spouse who isn't comfortable with money issues, you need to get over your phobia. You need to at least be aware of what's going on.

In marriages, each spouse should have some money that he or she can spend nag-free. You don't need to have separate accounts to do this, just an agreement that you both get to spend some cash without having to explain or justify what you did with it.

Solving the financial difficulties in your relationship isn't easy, especially if you think it's all about the money. It's not. It's a failure to compromise, communicate and set common goals.

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