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I like to quote the toast the father of my best friend gave at his rehearsal dinner. "Marriage is a sacred institution," my friend's father intoned. "It's something a man only does, oh, two or three times in his life."
While we all laughed and he was indeed speaking from personal experience, the fact is that many marriages do end in divorce. According to some statistics, one out of every three first-time marriages ends in divorce, and the figures shoot even higher (as much as 50%) the second or third time around.
It's also said that family finances are the issue which causes most breakups. Disagreement between spouses over money can be acrimonious, to say the least.
Money -- how we spend it, how we save it -- can reflect our own values, cultures, and experiences. When those differences clash in the checkbook, you can have the spark to ignite a raging fire that can burn down an otherwise happy household.
Putting out financial fires
To avoid becoming one of those statistics, I recommend you take the following steps a good many months before you actually tie the knot. And if you're getting married this weekend, sit down tonight -- no, now! -- and talk about these things.
- Commingling the money. Sharing a bank account is often considered the default option. Both salaries get deposited in one account, and checks are written out to pay the bills. Yet in situations where one person makes significantly more money than the other, there can be questions about dependency as well as control. You need to hash out how money can or should be withdrawn before the daily or weekly trips to the ATM become a flash point.
- Debt dependency. Does one person have more bills than the other? Is one spouse a saver and the other a spendthrift hooked on credit? Get copies of your credit reports and sit down and discuss them. Will adding your spouse's name to your credit accounts affect you, or will you be better off each having separate credit cards?
- Saving and investing. Too often, one spouse in the relationship is considered the "money person." He or she is the one who decides how much is saved and invested for the future without consideration of the goals and aspirations of his or her partner. Discussing mutually agreeable goals -- whether it be a vacation home, a sailboat, or even just retirement needs -- will help smooth out conflicts before they arise.
- Communication. Not whose cell phone bill is larger, but rather talking to each other openly and regularly about money. Too often, we assume the other person "knows" what we want, so we neglect to share exactly what it is we feel. It's funny how money, even in marriages, is a taboo topic until it is already a problem. Discussing money issues honestly with each other can help ensure that problems are dealt with before they become problems.
Having also lived out my best friend's father's toast, I can tell you also from personal experience that one reason I'm where I am today is that I didn't practice what I preach. You can learn from my mistakes.
Money is everything
Some studies say that finances aren't really the issue in failed marriages. Rather, other issues which are more difficult to accept and discuss are the true cause of most divorces. However, I firmly believe that the root of those "other" issues lies in financial differences we have. If intimacy issues rank higher in the studies, it could very well because of the animosity and acrimony caused by financial strife. If it's lack of conversation, that could be because we're "always fighting about money."
When you're getting married, the last thing you want to talk about are uncomfortable topics like money. So you sweep them under the rug, and often, they never get cleaned out. But as you contemplate your own impending wedding, think about whether there are financial matters that haven't yet been discussed. It could be a very eye-opening experience to learn that your betrothed actually holds the same concerns that you do, only didn't know how to talk to you about it.
Avoid being a statistic. Sit down, talk it out, write it out, and get it out in the open. Your future marital bliss will be the welcome payoff for what otherwise might seem a thankless task.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.