The Last Taboo
How talking about money can save your marriage
by HCTG Staff Writer Patrick Totty; illustrations by Mike Tse
When Rebecca and David met, it was pretty much love at first sight. After about a year, they began discussing marriage, and Rebecca decided to tell David about a little financial problem she had. “When I’d moved to California, a car breakdown left me with a Visa debt that I could only pay the interest on.” David’s response to this revelation only cemented Rebecca’s certainty that he was the one: “He said, ‘Let’s get this out of the way so we can start saving for our future,’ and he paid off my debt.”
Rebecca, a Bay Area resident, says David’s “we” attitude is something that’s allowed their 23-year marriage to thrive. “Most people I know who’ve been divorced were people who didn’t merge their finances. I’m not saying that’s what caused the divorces, but I think it was indicative of not sharing, of holding back.”
Having been married before, Rebecca based her opinion at least partly on her own experience. In her first marriage, her husband had insisted on keeping their incomes separate, and although he earned more than she did, he expected her to pay half of all household expenses. This left him with much more disposable income, which he spent on clothes, bars and treating friends to dinner. It left her feeling not only resentful, but as if they were leading separate lives. So, for Rebecca, David’s suggestion that they merge finances and consult with each other on major purchases was a novel idea and a big relief. “It made a lot of sense,” she realized. “Our marriage would be a true team effort.”
Does Rebecca’s hard-won insight into money and marriage apply to everybody? In most cases, yes, say financial planners who work with engaged and married couples. The problem is that, unlike Rebecca and David, the majority of couples seldom have an open and honest talk about money early on in their relationship, and many never get around to it at all.