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By Joseph Warren Kniskern, Esq.

Planning For A Family Merger, Not A Hostile Takeover
Part 1--Why Is Money Such A Problem In Marriage (And Remarriage)?

Surveys and polls confirm it. Money--more than sex, children or in-laws--is the most common source of conflict among America's married couples.[1] Financial issues are cited as the primary reason for 50% of the divorces in America. You may think these statistics show many married couples do not have enough money. Not so!

Most marital money issues arise in three areas: (a) accountability for expenditures; (b) honesty in how a financial situation is handled; and/or (c) different expectations as to how money should be handled.[2] The compelling problem underlying each of these hot issue areas? Corrupted attitudes toward money and how to handle it--we simply love money too much!

Money is a tool, and a symbol, in society. It means different things to different people. But it also can be a metaphor for power and control. How we think and feel about money is a delicate mix of factors. Gender roles clash. Men generally measure worth by income. Consequently, husbands may feel they are entitled to make the financial decisions. As the old Yiddish proverb says, "Those with the pay, have the say!" But, as we shall see, that is not God's way!

Women, who are single parents, valiantly struggle and survive after death or divorce of a spouse. Studies show that in the year following a divorce or separation, a women's income plummets by 25 to 45 percent. Although they worry about an inability to save money, their biggest concern is living from paycheck to paycheck. So, after successfully digging themselves out of a financial Grand Canyon, they never again want to lose financial security. Therefore, many women are defensive and suspicious, unable to trust a new husband with the family finances and their future.

In a remarriage, you and your beloved will have very different money attitudes and viewpoints, which are not readily apparent. Family backgrounds, culture, peers, and emotional concerns all contribute to one's monetary belief system. Parental fiscal habits particularly influence a child's monetary policy, which he or she carries into adulthood and marriage.

Money personalities frequently clash and create financial conflicts. Some years ago, University of Minnesota financial psychologist Ken Doyle outlined four classic personality types:

  1. The analytic person, for whom money means control
  2. The expressive person, for whom money means esteem;
  3. The driven person, for whom money means competence
  4. The amiable person, for whom money means affection.

Try putting an analytic person with a mate who is expressive and watch the sparks fly! As Doyle explains it, "Its the case of an accountant married to an entertainer. The accountant says, `Don't you have any concept of earning and saving?' and the entertainer says, `Loosen up! You're driving me crazy!'"[3]

Interestingly enough, opposites in money personalities are attracted to each other. Non-spenders, who enjoy keeping a tight rein on money, and who feel virtuous about not spending it, strangely will often fall in love with spenders. Spenders are quite pleased and comfortable with freely spending and sharing money with others, while hating the word "budget". Money amassers will eagerly enter relationships with money monks. Even more curious is the marriage of two non-spenders. Sure enough, the relationship works better, as one of the spouses magically becomes a spender! But generally, money personalities rarely change.

Gender differences play a significant role as well. Typically, men tend to be rather non-communicative about finances. They confidently make independent money decisions and revel in the power and prestige it brings in society. Women generally desire sharing and exploring money decisions with others, as part of emotional bonding with their partners and advisors. Men are more likely to read financial journals, to believe they have adequate financial resources, and to prefer selecting their own investments. Women are more likely to believe that getting rich is not a realistic investment goal, to consider stock investments too risky, and to seek help with their finances.

But soon after a remarriage occurs, it is not at all unusual to see spouses polarize, as each mate becomes increasingly uncomfortable or critical of the other's spending or non-spending mindset. They fail to appreciate and understand their different backgrounds and financial personalities. Instead of exploring ways to make things work by combining their strengths, they prefer to harp on their perceived weaknesses. Rather than sharing and assessing their respective talents and needs, they clam up. In fact, unless both spouses open the door, the topic is just too threatening to discuss.

If you want to avoid problems with your beloved, it is very important that you determine how family backgrounds, money personalities, gender differences and other personal factors influence each person prior to any remarriage. But it is absolutely essential that you are able to talk about money issues. A couple needs to ask themselves pointed questions: How was money treated in your home when you were growing up? How did that affect you? Did you pay your own way through college? What is your approach to using credit? What debts do you currently owe? To some spouses who grew up in poverty, money can be a constant source of survival and fear. For others coming from a wealthier background, a relaxed attitude about spending is very natural. But too often in marriages and remarriages, the common denominator in determining whether finances will ever become a problem, is each partner's attitude regarding money.

[1] "Don't Let Money Wreck Your Marriage," Sherry Suib Cohen, Parade Magazine, March 12, 1995, P. 24, citing a survey of 2000 men and women completed by Roper Starch Worldwide.

[2] "Till Debt Do Us Part," Ginger Biss, Virtue, March/April 1998 (Vol. 20, NO. 4), Pages 30-33.

[3] Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, July, 1991, P. 65.

Part 2: Financial Harmony In Remarriage--It Begins With Having The Right Spiritual Attitude!

Joseph Warren Kniskern is a Christian attorney, mediator, and author of "When The Vow Breaks: A Survival and Recovery Guide For Christians Facing Divorce," and "Making A NEW Vow: A Christian Guide To Remarriage And Blending Families," both available from Broadman & Holman Publishers, Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee.