Part Four On Cohabitation: Marriage, Money and Cohabiting

by | Aug 29, 2009

Dr. Wall continues his series on Cohabitation by exploring the devastating effect cohabitation has on creating long-term bad habits, particularly keeping their money separate.

Money symbolizes the couple’s relationship.  If the money is separate, well, there you go.  For the first in this series on Cohabitation click here.  For the entire series click here.

And the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one.

Jesus as quoted in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:8

They say it takes six weeks to develop a new habit.They say old habits die hard and you can’t teach a dog new tricks.They say we are creatures of habit.If these are even remotely true it would be an argument against living together before marriage without a wedding.Why?Because the habits that have been created by the cohabiting couple have already been set.The road has been traveled.Traditions are in place.Attitudes determined.The relationship is on a trajectory determined by the habits the couple developed before they got married.These will NOT be changed just because a couple has a nice wedding and a raucous reception.If any of the habits before the wedding are to be changed after the wedding they will be hard fought.You will have to storm the gates.There will be casualties.It won’t be fun.It’s hard enough to change yourself.Now trying changing both of you, especially if you are both stubborn enough to live together without marriage.You are both going to be a bit feisty by definition.This ain’t gonna change…more than likely.

The biggest relationship change for a cohabiting couple after the wedding is in the area of money.Well, let’s just say, the biggest relationship change for a cohabiting couple after the wedding SHOULD be money.Most don’t.Nearly none do.None do?

Hey, if you are grad student and want an interesting research project, here’s an idea. It’d be easy to code:

What percentage of couples who cohabit and have their money separate before marriage, have their money together after marriage verses those who have it separate before and after marriage? How do they differ in marital quality?

Count me a skeptic, but I bet 99% of couples who cohabit have it separate before marriage and 90% after. If you were really an ambitious researcher, you could study the divorce rate of couples who have the following money patterns:

  1. Never lived together; have their money together after marriage (Very small sample size. You might be hard pressed to find these people. You might try a church with young couples.)
  2. Never lived together before marriage; have their money separate after marriage (I’m guessing Group 1 is bigger than Group 2.)
  3. Lived together before marriage and had their money separate before and after marriage (This group gets bigger every year. This is the new way. You can interview your sister.)
  4. Lived together before marriage and had their money together before and after marriage (Not many here. Unfortunately, it’s an oxymoron.)
  5. Lived together before marriage and had their money separate before marriage and together after they were married (Rare, rare, rare.)

My apologies to anyone out there who’s already done this research. I really haven’t looked. Sorry. If you know of it, let me know and I’ll pass on the results. But my hunch is you’d be hard pressed to find a cohabiting couple that had separate money before marriage and money together after. My bet is that those couples would do better than those who had it separate before and after. Of all the types above my money is on the couples who have their money together. I would double down on couples who didn’t live together before marriage and who had their money together after they got married.

Why?

Old habits die hard, remember?You live as roommates before you are married, you live as roommates after you are married.Couples come to see me in all kinds of turmoil, and often it is the result of having separate bank accounts and he’s in charge of these bills and she’s in charge of those bills and that is never fair, but who said marriage is about being fair.Roommates need to worry about things being fair.Brothers and sisters worry about things being fair.You want to treat your neighbor fairly.But in marriage you SACRIFICE!!!!Screw fairness.You better be more than fair if you think your marriage is ever going to be more than roommates and brother and sister (and who wants to have sex with your sister or brother or roommate for that matter?Yuck!).But when you live together before marriage you train each other that you are roommates who happen to be sexual.We share our bed and that’s about it!!!!Great.Dogs do that!!It takes a real man or woman to trust your loving spouse with your all of your assets.Only the brave need apply.You got the guts?You live together without marriage you are a wuss.It takes absolutely NO sacrifice to do that.No one learns a thing except to be more selfish and to protect your butt.

So these couples come to see me with all kinds of chaos and much of it is because they got into the bad habit of having separate money while they were cohabiting and they are cohabiting still and having separate monies and a million problems or they are now married and have separate monies and so the trust isn’t there and the communication isn’t there and there’s unnecessary hurt feelings about fairness (not a fight for married people, remember) and they are supposed to be one but it doesn’t feel that way because they are both protecting their own personal butt and not protecting their spouses butt and then they wonder why it doesn’t feel right.

And then I suggest to them that they put their monies together and start acting married: You know, rich and poor, sickness and in health and oneness and all kind of stuff. Their faces curl up. Their brows furrow. Their neck stiffens. They fold their arms. They say defiantly:

“We’ll always have separate accounts. It works for us. That’s how we’ve always done it.”

And that’s the end of it.You’re the marriage guy.Stay out of our bank accounts.We’ll take care of that.

Okay, fine. But we’d make a lot better headway if we quit acting like we were in 3rd Grade and started admitting that we, ah, are married and we’re supposed to be, like, you know, one and all? Work together? Shared goals? Discuss our future? Plan our future? Save for a rainy day. Knock off our debt? Pay off OUR student loans? Pay off OUR cars? Be committed to the same things? Prioritize our assets together? Both have a vote? Sacrifice for each other? Get rid of the “Me” statements (and the I and the MY)? Give and take?

What in the world is that? It’s a mystery to couples who keep their money separate. Too bad for them. But they won’t listen to me, remember? I’m just a marriage guy. What do I know about money?

Okay, I repent of the sarcasm and here’s some genuine guidance that may help you on this very important journey from wherever you are to having your monies together. I generally recommend two books. Here’s brief summary of each:

Smart Couples Finish Rich, David Bock (finishrich.com). If you are not in debt too much this is a fine book to read together. It goes over the nooks and crannies and will help you both get on the same page. He’s got 10 other books out, his newest being: Fight for Your Money: How to Stop Getting Ripped Off and Save a Fortune.

The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey (daveramsey.com). If you are saddled with debt, Ramsey’s plan is more doable than Bock’s. Also, an advantage of Ramsey is that his Total Money Makeover is available on DVD and CD (and can be downloaded into your iPod) and you can even go to live events where he teaches the material to large crowds (upwards of 5000 at a time). So if you are not the reading type, you can listen or watch and learn the material. Many churches host his 13-week Financial Peace University where he covers the material in The Total Money Makeover book (click here and type in your zip code.  There are currently (August, 2009) 22 classes in central Iowa at various churches). These classes generally meet for an hour and a half and include watching one of his thirteen 40 minute videos and discussing the material with others in the class for another half hour or so. The discussions reinforce the material. It’s not touchy feely and you don’t have to reveal your finances to anyone in the class. His material includes software, online support group, Facebook, Twitter, and budgeting forms. He also has a free 40 minute download from his popular radio show (Monday Through Friday 2-5 in Central Iowa on 1260 AM in Boone) available at the iTunes (search for Dave Ramsey) bookstore and a 1 hour TV broadcast Monday – Friday on Fox Business at 7 central time (also available two weeks later for free on hulu.com). I highly recommend attending the classes or watching the DVD together as a couple so that both of you can get on the same page financially. If you haven’t seen his video on how to buy a car for free the rest of your life, it is a must see. Click here.  To read my previous blog on his free car video click here.

Hey, this is a big deal. Money problems lead to a very high percentage of divorces. Don’t be casual about this very important area of your lives. You are no longer two, but one, remember?

Dr. Bing Wall

Dr. Bing Wall

Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.

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