David Auten & John Schneider — Queer Money
While the legalization of same-sex marriages in 2015 was (and is!) something to celebrate, there’s also a flip side: not all marriages last. Divorce rates have been on the decline in recent years, but historically, about 40 to 50 percent of marriages end before “death do us part.”
Marriages come to an end for many reasons. Some you may not be able to predict, but there is one cause you can guard against—money. In a study conducted by Sun Trust Bank, about 35 percent of respondents blamed money related issues for their divorce.
We’ve been together for more than 14 years. We’re not perfect, and we’ve experienced both successes and failures with our money. In fact, we first committed to focusing on the finances of the LGBTQ community because of our own money struggles.
Before getting together and during the start of our relationship, we acquired $51,000 worth of credit card debt between the two of us. When we finally admitted our financial failings to each other, we weren’t happy with the direction our lives were going—after a year and a half of dating, we found ourselves living in a basement apartment—and it strained our relationship. We never got to a point when we wanted to break up, but we could understand how financial stress can affect a couple.
After going through so much together—both good and bad—we’ve learned what works (and what doesn’t) when blending your financial lives.
Be transparent with each other
We bring a lot of emotions about money into relationships, whether we mean to or not, and when those feelings are at odds with our partner’s, it can cause serious problems.
Being open and honest about finances is key. When one person breaks that trust, it can be hard to overcome. Relatives of ours divorced because one spouse spent their shared life savings without the other knowing. They were never able to overcome the lack of transparency and their marriage ended.
That type of secrecy about money comes from a scarcity mindset. Whether consciously or unconsciously, many of us grow up believing there are only so many slices of the pie. As adults, that often leaves us hiding financial truths or feeling protective of our income and money choices. Working to resolve your own fears and worries about money can help you feel more financially secure, at least from an emotional standpoint. Then you’ll be able to be more transparent with your partner, creating a stronger bond, and hopefully a healthier joint account balance.
Work as a team
To keep a relationship healthy and home life efficient, it often seems easier to divide and conquer tasks—one person takes out the trash while the other cooks, one parent picks the kids up from soccer practice while the other parent attends the board meeting. But what works for chores won’t always work for the bigger picture.
As such a critical component of our lives, one person shouldn’t be solely responsible for managing the family finances. When you work as a team to reach shared financial goals, you’ll both have a good sense of your wealth today and an idea of what to expect in the future. That will lower the stress for both of you. It’s helped us to talk about our money every other week. We look at our budget. We pay our bills. We plan for the near-term future, and we track our progress.
Being in it together not only ups your odds of financial success, but it can cushion the blow of setbacks as well. We had tough times when we were paying off our debt. When one of us was down, the other was there for support. When one of us miscalculated our budget, the other was there to proof the numbers.
Support each other
We often say we’re lucky because we’ve mostly had the same financial aspirations. Your goals don’t need to sync up perfectly 100 percent of the time in a healthy relationship, but you should be able to support each other in achieving those dreams.
As with our now-divorced relatives, if one person is diligently saving for tomorrow and the other is living for today, there will be problems. Two people cannot drive the same financial car in different directions.
This underscores why it’s important for couples to be open and honest about everything. If we don’t tell our partner or spouse what we want and then we don’t get it, we’ll still feel shorted, especially if the other gets what they want.
When one of us has a new goal, we talk about it during our bimonthly money discussions and work it into our plan.
Don’t make assumptions
As a community, LGBTQ people are still learning all the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. After the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned, we watched many friends and acquaintances rush to get married only to have a rude awakening after they tied the knot. This isn’t exclusive to the LGBTQ community, of course, but feels particularly fresh among people finally able to legally wed.
Even if you’ve been together as an unmarried couple for a decade, things can still change once you’re married. Marriage can mean we assume the responsibility of our new spouse’s debt. It can bump us into a higher tax bracket and cost us more each tax season. There is also healthcare, retirement planning, real estate, and a host of other issues to tackle.
Take a look at both your employers’ healthcare plans to determine if one is a better fit now that you can claim spousal benefits. Check out the retirement fund contribution limits for married couples. If you both own property, determine if selling one is really better, or if you might be able to profit from an up-and-coming rental market. There are circumstances when it’s best for couples to file their taxes married and separately, and so on.
Managing our personal relationship and our relationship with money can seem daunting—if you’re struggling to sort it all out, a financial planner can be helpful, but the most important thing is that you keep trying. Regularly working on your relationship and your mutual finances will only make you stronger.