Originally published in the News Star on Sunday, June 12, 2016.
Question: My first marriage ended due to conflicts over money. It was so unpleasant that I find myself not even wanting to bring up the topic now (in my second marriage). But it just comes up naturally – I mean we just naturally have conflicts and money is a part of it. But It makes me sick at my stomach to think about having money conflicts ruin this marriage too. What can I do to avoid this?
Answer: You can stop avoiding it.
If you will step up and DO something hard now, you’ll reduce the odds that you will EXPERIENCE something much harder later.
One hundred years ago, the world experienced death and destruction on a scale never before imaginable during “The Great War,” the one we call today World War I. So profoundly horrible was the experience and so deep was the desire for peace by its weary victors that they failed to do the hard work of prevention.
In the words of Winston Churchill, they “allowed the wicked to rearm.”
No one wanted to admit what everyone could see – a hereto fore insignificant army corporal, one Adolf Hitler, had risen to power, assumed a defacto dictatorship and was re-arming his nation, carrying out growing atrocities against anyone remotely Jewish and eyeing jealously the lands of his neighbors, which he wanted to posses.
Could World War II have been prevented (as Churchill argued)? We will never know.
But this much we do know – whether in wars between nations, or conflicts in marriages, when problems are not dealt with in their infancy, we almost guarantee to bring them to maturity.
What kind of financial conflict do you want to deal with in your marriage – a small one or a big one?
Try the following to get started in keeping a small conflict small:
Put it into words. Each of you write out what you see as the problem, Try not to use blaming language if at all possible.
Identify ideal. Next, both of you identify what you each (separately) would view as the ideal solution to this problem. Of course you won’t agree at this point…that’s why you’re having a conflict!
Measure your distance. Are your solutions 180 degrees apart? Are they closer than you thought? Sometimes putting the problem into words and identifying each of your ideal solutions can show you that the distance that separates you isn’t as great as you thought. Or maybe it is…
Table the topic for a time. By this point, you may have thought more deeply and clearly about the topic than you ever have. Writing out the problem and clarifying your own individual vision of the solution can begin a creative thought process. You need to give this some time. I suggest you agree to table the topic for a brief time – maybe a week or two. Agree not to discuss (or argue!) about it. Give it time to simmer in you both.
Try again, seeking win-win. After you’ve given the topic some time to marinate in your brain, come back together and ask each other if you may have had a breakthrough – a “win-win” that might work for you both. This isn’t about seeing which partner will give in. It is about seeking a win for both of you.
Seek a second opinion. Even with the best of intentions, the steps above don’t always result in a workable solution. In that case, seek outside help, be it in the form of a marriage counselor, a financial planner or some combination of the services of both.
Money problems in marriage aren’t new. And they can be stubborn and persistent. Sometimes, even painful.
But don’t let the pain of the past persuade you to be passive about your problems.
Do the hard thing now.
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