Tension, anger and resentment over money issues can damage or destroy marital bliss faster than an ATM spits out $20 bills. So, how big of a marriage-killer can finances be?
More than 3 in 10 (32%) respondents to Debt.com’s 2024 Debt and Divorce Survey said that financial conflict was a major factor in their divorce. One in three (34%) report credit card debt as a major factor in their decision to split up. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Premarital financial counseling can offer insight into your and a potential spouse’s spending habits, help avoid future misunderstandings, and improve communication about money.
Learn six ways premarital financial counseling can alleviate financial tension in a marriage.
Premarital counseling is a good first step down the aisle
Financial counseling is usually a component of premarital counseling, which generally includes completing questionnaires on communication, conflict resolution skills, goals, and both individual and couple traits. Then you’ll spend several sessions together with a counselor going over results, setting goals, and discussing expected roles in the marriage.
Many churches and community organizations also offer courses focused solely on premarital financial counseling. “Most couples rate premarital counseling as very helpful, and it also establishes in their relationship a positive attitude about seeking help if marriage problems arise in the future,” according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
Avoid spending habit surprises
If your idea of married life is dinner at home most nights but your spouse prefers going out, that’s a difference that can spell trouble in the budget – and the marriage. Plenty of other spending habits can clash, too.
For example, what if you want to spend on clothes or entertainment every month but your spouse-to-be wants to cut those expenses to save for emergencies? Premarital financial counseling can help each of you better understand the other’s spending habits and financial goals.
Decide who manages the money
You may plan to pay expenses with both incomes, but you still need to decide who will act as the official “accountant” to get payments to the right places on time. Maybe one person will pay utilities while the other buys groceries every week, or maybe one spouse will handle all payments.
Whatever you decide, having clear expectations about each other’s financial responsibilities can help avoid resentment that can smolder from unspoken expectations not being met.
Discuss separate or joint accounts
Don’t wait until you’re married to decide whether you want joint or separate bank accounts. The same goes for credit cards and loans. You may assume that you’ll pool all money as a couple but what if your betrothed expects that some or all bank and accounts will remain separate?
With premarital financial counseling, you’ll go into the marriage with expectations based on reality from discussing both of your views on money, saving and debt. The counselor or therapist can help you find a way to agree on compromises or solutions that will work for both of you.
Know each other’s creditworthiness
The last thing you want to find out about your spouse is that he or she has terrible credit and you can’t buy a house, car or anything else together. Yet more than half of respondents in the Debt.com survey said they hid spending, which can negatively impact credit scores if charges aren’t paid back on time.
Premarital financial counseling can help you make an informed choice to either marry while your partner is working to improve his or her credit score or postpone wedding plans until you’re both on equal creditworthy footing.
Eliminate debt secrets
Hiding a large amount of debt from your partner until you’re “safely” married is a bad idea. Yet many people enter marriage with debt concealed from a partner who might disapprove or even slam the brakes on wedding plans. For example, the Debt.com survey found that 34% of divorcees hid credit card debt – and 54% hid spending.
Even if only one person in the couple is legally responsible for a credit card, student loan, or other debt, the burden of that monthly expense can put a strain on marital finances. With premarital financial counseling, you can start the marriage off with trust instead of secrets and create a plan to pay off debt.