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The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part III

The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part III

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It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it's good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven't lost the things money can't buy.
George Lorimer, U.S. editor and writer (1867-1937)

I'd like you to try an exercise.

First, read that quote again.

Now think to yourself: How many things can you think of that money can buy? Here are a few to get you started: Food, clothing, furniture, appliances, electronic equipment, vacations. Continue the list according to your lifestyle.

Finished? Good, because you're going to make another mental list. This time, try to think of as many things as you can that money can't buy, such as: Love, happiness, friendship, courage, kindness, peace of mind.

Now compare the two lists, and answer the following question: Which are the most precious commodities?

I would think that, beyond minimal necessities that one has to have in order to live, that the second list would take priority over the first. And most people I've asked to do this exercise agree with me.

So now we have a question to answer.

If we all agree that the second list is more important than the first, then why is it that money is one of the three main challenges that arise in marriage? (According to some, it is actually one of the number one reasons people divorce today!)

In my experience, the main reason why money is such a problem today is that, in our society, money isn't really money.

Allow me to explain. Once upon a time (actually, it wasn't that long ago), money was simply a means to an end, that end being the ability to support a family. It was something one needed in order to purchase food, clothing, shelter, and coal or wood to warm the house during the winter. And that was the end of the money issue.

Today, money is not merely a means to an end; it's an end in and of itself. Money has come to equal status and importance, which, when push comes to shove, means that in our society, money has come to equal self-worth. So today, when someone asks, "What's he worth?" the answer is framed in terms of how much money that person earns a year. This way of thinking can wreak havoc on a marriage, because money - and how it is or isn't spent - has now become an issue of, "If I were really important to her, then she would spend the money the way I want." Or, "If he loved me, he would let me buy that piece of jewelry, and wouldn't say that we can't afford it right now."

So how can couples deal with the money challenge? Well, the main thing that has to be done is to demystify money. In other words, couples need to reduce the emotional significance of money so that it stays just that - money, a means to an end - and loses its symbolic power.

Now, this is much easier said than done. But with determination, and by utilizing the following guidelines, you CAN do it!

1) Make a budget. One of the most practical ways to demystify money is to sit down one evening - when both of you are in a good mood - and draw up a budget. Now, I know that some people cringe when they hear that "B" word. For some reason, it seems to bring up associations of living in a financial prison, and running to get your notebook every time you want to buy something you didn't write down. But that's not what budgeting means. Budgeting means making a plan of how much you earn, how much your expenditures are, and how much is left over - the discretionary money.

So here's what you do. First of all, if you haven't done it yet, then both of you need to state honestly how much money you're making per month. Combine those two figures and write them down at the top of the page. Next, make two lists of all your expenses. The first list is for the fixed expenses, such as rent/mortgage payments, insurance (car, health, etc.), tuition, installment payments (for example, if you bought a car and you're paying for it in monthly installments), day care, taxes, salaries for your housekeeper/gardener, etc. The second is for your expenses that need to be paid regularly but tend to fluctuate, like food, clothing, telephone, utilities, gasoline, and home/vehicle maintenance. Write these down in two columns and add up each column; then combine the totals. This is the first step.

The second step is to see if the original figure you wrote at the top is greater than your combined expenses. Assuming it is, that means that you can pay for all of your regular expenses on your current income. The difference between the two figures is your discretionary money.

What exactly is discretionary money? Well, it's exactly what it sounds like - money that isn't (yet) earmarked for any specific expense, and is to be used at your discretion. This is where good communication between you and your spouse is crucial, because unless you're zillionaires, the amount of discretionary money you have will be limited, and you're going to have to decide together how best to utilize it. One thing is important, though - no matter how much discretionary money there is, you should set aside a certain percentage of it that can be used by each spouse without having to account for how it was used.

2) Charity. In addition to drawing up a budget, another way to demystify money is to earmark a certain percentage of your monthly income for charity purposes. Besides the obvious merits of giving charity, it will help keep you focused on the idea that money is merely a means, and can be used for more altruistic ends.

3) Dealing with mistakes. This is crucial in the demystifying process. Accept the fact that sometimes, people make mistakes with their money. For example, let's say that your wife had an investment idea. We'll even say that she was smart enough to use discretionary money rather than necessity money for this venture. Now let's say that the investment soured. Yes, it was a mistake. What are you going to do now? If your attitude is going to be, "See, you don't know how to spend the money. If you would have listened to me, this would have never happened", then you've gone right back to square one and mystified the money again. But if your response is, "Honey, I'm sure you feel bad about this. But anyone can make a mistake. Let's sit down and readjust the budget, and hopefully we'll make up for the loss," then you've won a battle against the money myth -and your marriage is the real winner, because you've overcome a hurdle together.

Another type of mistake is when one spouse oversteps the budget boundary. Now let's say it was your husband. One day he comes home from work early, with a big bag in his hand. You wonder what's in it, but you don't have to wonder for long because after saying hello to you, he calls out, "Kids, come look! I bought each of you a surprise!" What happened? The toy store was having a big sale, and as your husband passed by, he couldn't resist buying one small toy for each child.

How will you react?

If you get upset, and come down hard on him for going over the budget, then you'll accomplish nothing other than to make him feel bad for letting his love for his kids overcome his budgetary constraints. But if you say, "Good for you, honey. You really made the kids happy", then you've seen to it that your marriage will continue to grow the way you want it to.

Reframing Your Marriage | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work - Part 2 | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part III | The 3 Main Challenges in Marriage - Part II | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part I | See More »
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