Ah, June, when summer weddings kick into gear.
But far too many couples haven’t had the talk — that is, the one about financial matters.
So why is the subject often neglected, even though it’s a top reason for divorce?
“Sometimes it’s shame because people are in debt. They don’t want to share that,” said Certified Financial Planner Gwendolyn Kirkland, the managing principal of Kirkland, Turnbo and Associates in Matteson and an independent broker with SA Stone Wealth Management.
“Sometimes it’s a lack of trust because it’s a sensitive area. . . It’s an intimate area, and sometimes it has a lot to do with a person’s self-worth, how they see themselves as far as their income is concerned or the debt they’ve accumulated or if they have a struggle with credit issues.”
Often, couples are so caught up planning weddings that unless they’ve had premarital counseling, they neglect having conversations about how they’re financial partnership will work, said Kirkland, who also is associate pastor of stewardship at Covenant United Church of Christ in South Holland.
Frequently, people make incorrect financial-related assumptions about their partners, said Sam McElroy, who holds a doctorate in psychology and is a partner at @financial and @financial investments in Chicago, which has clients in the south suburbs and throughout the metropolitan area.
“People assume the way they think about finances is the way others think about finances,” he said. “It’s not until something comes up that kind of shakes them that they realize, ‘Oh, you actually think this way, I didn’t realize that.’ That’s where a lot of conflict comes from.”
Kirkland said she has counseled individuals “who never got married financially, especially if it’s a second marriage where perhaps they did not have a good experience in the first marriage as far as finances are concerned. They’ve been burned. They’ve been hurt. They feel going into their second marriage, ‘No, I’m not going to put myself in that position again.’ ”
She counseled individuals whose spouses died when surviving partners have been “clueless” about household income and finances, she added. “They don’t know what the accounts are, what their partners have. Sometimes people just acquiesce. They figure, well the bills are getting paid, but there’s no accountability, no empowerment as a couple or as a partner to say what’s going on, and then upon the death of the person who was doing the financial accounting in the relationship, it leaves the surviving spouse in a very difficult position because now they are grieving and have a steep learning curve to become acquainted with household finances.”
According to Kirkland, among key questions couples should discuss before marriage are: What are their assets and income? What’s going to be available for household needs and how much will each person contribute?
If one person is paying all bills, both parties should know where payment histories stand, she said. If bill payments, savings and investments are handled online, they should know the user IDs and passwords or where to find them, she added.
For those entering into a second marriage with children from previous relationships, partners need to know about alimony or possible child support payments, Kirkland said.
“One of the key things to talk about is debt including their philosophy on managing or having debt,” McElroy said. “Are credit cards paid off every month? What are they willing to finance verses what they aren’t willing to finance?
According to Kirkland, another thing to consider is how much debt remains, including student loans, credit card debts, mortgages, 401k loans and personal loans and is there a plan to pay it off?
Not discussing debt and credit issues can cause real problems “because it doesn’t allow the other person in the relationship to be your partner,” McElroy said.
“What I’ve found is many spouses are hurt more not by the fact that the debt exists, but that they weren’t trusted enough to help the other individual work through it. It’s like a breach of their relationship.”
When debt issues are brought into the open, couples can discuss how they can work together to tackle it, Kirkland said.
“It’s important to discuss one’s philosophy on money in general,” McElroy said. “Some people come from the mindset that you really have to be a saver, meaning they are going to do everything they can to reduce expenses, so they can save as much as possible because that’s their defense against the unexpected.
“For another, money comes and goes, and you just do the things you want to do and not delay your life. It’s important to talk about their world view of money because if there is misalignment, that can create a lot of conflict.”
As for spending money on children, questions are: Who should pay for college education? Should that be a shared responsibility with the children, or is it the parents’ responsibility alone?
Then there’s the family matter — what’s your attitude on helping relatives with money? Maybe you’re helping your mom by sending her $500 a month, or have a brother who’s often in need. How does that fit into the budget?
It’s important to “start talking and see where you’re at” on financial matters, McElroy said.
“If both of you have agreement that you want to accomplish X, Y and Z and you’re both willing to hold each other accountable… it gives you what I think a marriage is supposed to be, a true partnership.”
Discussions about money should take place in a nonthreatening environment, Kirkland said.
“If you have the in depth financial discussion, prior to marriage, there are no surprises after the fact to startle a person and cause them concern,” she said.