The first thing I want women to know about money and marriage is that marriage is a business contract. It starts as a love contract and ends as a business deal. Now, I’m not saying we’re all destined for divorce. But it’s important to talk about how marriage and partnership affects a woman’s overall financial wellness.
In between the beginning and the end of a marriage people make a lot of decisions based on psychosocial roles—in other words, expectations that pretty much divide down the line between who is the primary breadwinner and who is the more financially dependent person. And this pertains to anyone: a married man and woman, two married women or two married men. The combination isn’t really important. What is important, however, is that when you embark on a marriage, slowly but surely, someone’s career usually has a more prominent place in the financial health of the marriage.
You may not see it happening or be aware that it’s happening, but it almost always does.
We also know that there’s always someone in the marriage who puts in a tremendous amount of sweat equity. Life gets chaotic. Maybe you have kids, so you decide to divide and conquer. Someone takes care of the money, the other person takes control of the household. Now the person in charge of the home may be the one who pays the bills and keeps a monthly budget. But they aren’t necessarily handling investments or managing insurance policies. They may not be the one tracking a 401K and deciphering how much is spent on the home versus how much is set aside for investing.
When there’s a division of labor like this, the person who’s in charge of the finances ends up becoming the stronger and better educated person on money matters in general.
Why is that?
Because research shows that you learn about money by doing it. So it's not that people are inherently born with better money skills. It's that they’ve been forced into a position to really figure it out. In partnerships between a man and a woman, men tend to take on this role, which means women inherently become more financially illiterate (because she’s not doing money things). In turn, women tend to be more financially dependent on their husbands. When you lose your understanding of the business of your marriage, you stop becoming true partners in the relationship.
Money is one of the biggest causes of divorce. It can truly create a toxic dynamic. Consider the perspective of the breadwinner as well. Imagine the stress and pressure of having your entire family dependent on your salary. What would happen if this person lost their job? Or decided that the lifestyle expectations set ten years ago were no longer aligned with their values? Maybe they want to change careers and transition to something that doesn’t pay as much. This person may be hesitant to share this with their partner because they don’t want to make their partner nervous or stressed about their financial stability.
This is why financial intimacy is one of the most critical pieces to a successful partnership or marriage. We know that talking about money can get contentious. It’s so important to start having your money conversations as early in your partnership as possible. Plan monthly money dates. Be an active participant in your financial wellness.
I talk to so many women at the end of their marriages and here’s the thing I want you to remember: A marriage is a financial contract. It’s a 50/50 split down the middle when everything is great... and when things go sour. You’re both responsible. So if you hand over your financial health completely to someone else, without any insight, knowledge or voice, and they make a terrible investment or you end up bankrupt or in debt, you own as much of the debt as they do if your marriage ends in divorce.
Our mission at Outset is to help you start money conversations early and keep them going as your partnership grows and evolves. We’ll give you the tools to ensure you’re both staying present and are active participants in your financial future. It doesn’t sound very sexy, but some of the happiest couples I know have an open, positive and ongoing conversation about their money. We all work at maintaining physical and emotional intimacy with our partners. So if your goal is to have an intimate partnership in every way, we need to prioritize financial intimacy and build in as many structures to help support that as possible.