Why Your Marriage May Need Financial Therapy


If money is at the root of a married couple's problems, maybe their couples therapy should center around it.

Even when they're openly communicating, it's difficult for couples to get on the same page about finances. A recent survey by financial firm Edward Jones found that, among workers 18 to 35, 90% say they have or plan to start saving for retirement before they turn or turned 30, with only 7% saying they'd start in their 40s. The next age group - 35- to 44-year-olds -- found that 26% said they'd start saving in their 40s. Only 64% actually began saving in their 30s. These are financial goals that couples are typically going to want to discuss earlier rather than later.

"When it comes to retirement savings, there's a big difference between planning to save and actually doing so," said Scott Thoma, principal and investment strategist for Edward Jones. "While intentions to save for retirement are legitimate, individuals tend to satisfy more immediate, short-term spending goals and push off their long-term saving goals. This behavior can be incredibly detrimental for individual investors, particularly as they enter the critical savings periods of their 30s and 40s when they have -- and unfortunately waste -- a tremendously valuable asset: time."

Even worse, 22% of workers indicated that they plan to or actually began saving between the ages of 40 and 50. Among those ages 35 to 44, only 3% planned to save or started saving in their 40s. However, among those ages 45 to 54, that jumped to 30%.

Meanwhile, having kids without executing a financial plan first doesn't necessarily help matters. Only 39% of single-person households indicated that they are not currently saving, compared to 51% of households of three or more. Similarly, 58% of those with no children have already started saving, while just 49% with any children indicated the same.

"Parents are recognizing the need to save earlier in order to account for additional costs, like education," says Thoma. "We cannot emphasize enough the importance of saving for retirement early and often - it leads to higher future income in retirement, with less stress and uncertainty while working to achieve those goals."

Dr. Kristy Archuleta, program director of personal financial planning at Kansas State University notes that if couples see any of the following warning signs amid their financial planning, they're likely in need of more help than they realize:

1. Arguing, but never resolving the issue. Arguing itself isn't bad, but if you're doing it in ways that never accomplish anything, it can be destructive to their financial well-being.

2. Laying blame. If you're pointing the finger over who did and didn't carry out a financial plan, it's less of a plan than it is an edict. If you're working on a financial plan together, each of you has to make a contribution, which means each of you also needs to accept blame for the plan's shortcomings. At any rate, it isn't helpful to present problems without accompanying solutions.

3. Imbalanced contributions. Archuleta warns that one partner doing all of the work could be a power and control issue. If one partner controls the other by not allowing them to participate in financial planning, that's problematic.

4. Uncontrollable worry, fear, anxiety or depressive symptoms around money. While that can certainly impede the progress of a financial plan, it's also more than advisors or accountants are qualified to take on. Archuleta suggests the counsel of a licensed mental health professional in that instance, but a more proactive financial response to any of the issues above.

"Money is a loaded topic for many married couples," says Archuleta, who is also a former president of the Financial Therapy Association. "Why? Money comes with baggage, emotionally charged reactions to how one feels, thinks or behaves around money. Money impacts how people relate to one another; it can ruin family relationships and even break up marriages when parties do not see eye to eye, or feel as though they have been treated unfairly."

Money has become such a complicated topic that, according to a survey by financial firm UBS, Millennials are putting off marriage and children later than Baby Boomers did. Instead, 28% say they have traveled the world for six months or more, compared to 12% of Baby Boomers.

Meanwhile, the evolving nature of marriage is leaving many couples feeling helpless in their financial situations. According to U.S. Bancorp Investments, 60% of gay couples believe that there isn't enough financial guidance designed for their family type and find it difficult to navigate spousal benefits, estate planning and the tax implications of new marriage. It also notes that non-traditional modern families now represent almost 70% of the U.S. population and present different financial needs. Single-parent families, blended families, older parents with younger children and multigenerational families (adult children living with or caring for parents) all come with separate sets of needs.

For just about all of these folks, however, a blend of mental health professionals (marriage and family therapists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, life coaches) and financial professionals (financial planners, financial counselors, financial advisors) can still be of assistance. However, with groups like the Financial Therapy Association catering specifically to the needs of couples and families struggling with financial issues, it's much easier to get to the root of the issue without calling in a team to pick away at that issue from separate angles.

"My experience has indicated that about one-third of couples who see a financial professional report having marital issues, and research has shown that about one-third of couples who see a marriage therapist report financial problems." Archuleta says. "Or, as I like to say, couples go to their marriage counselor and talk about money and go to their financial advisor to talk about their marriage."

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