Marriage and money: Get it right
Don't let money get in the way of your marriage. Here is advice for him...for her...and for both.
By Pat Regnier and Amanda Gengler

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Some economists argue that marriage makes financial sense precisely because it allows each partner to specialize in what he or she does best. But you can get into trouble if you use Mars and Venus notions as an excuse not to talk about what's up with the money.

"If you are in a marriage where your husband is handling the money and he's terrible at it, you feel you can't step in," says Caryl Rivers, co-author of Same Difference, a book about gender stereotypes. That is, if you even realize he's terrible at it. Fact is, there's little reason to suppose investing is really something men do better.

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At a minimum, you both need to know what you've got and where you've got it. Women's longer life spans mean that it's particularly crucial for them to be informed.

Working together on your finances may also strengthen your relationship, since it's clear that money is a divisive subject: 84 percent of our respondents note that money creates tension in their marriages, and 15 percent say they fight about money several times a month or more. The leading cause of dissension is disagreement about financial priorities.

Here is advice for getting on the same page.

Advice for him

  • Assume she cares. Your wife shares your financial goals and is just as committed to achieving them as you are -- even if she doesn't seem that interested to you.
  • Use plain English. Do you pepper money discussions with talk of market cycles and P/E ratios? Jargon, and the whole investing-as-sport mentality that goes with it, is a conversation killer for many women. When you talk about money, just talk; don't show off. Focus first on what you both hope to accomplish, only then on how a specific investment will help get you there, says financial planner Mary Claire Allvine.
  • Get up to speed. Your wife may not know what's in your 401(k), but do you know how much it costs to buy the groceries and the kids' clothes? You can't make realistic saving and investing decisions unless you both know how much money is coming in, how much is going out and what's left over.

Advice for her

  • Step up. No matter how good a show your husband puts on, don't assume he's any smarter about money than you are. Don't use lack of confidence about your investing skills as an excuse to abdicate your responsibility to be a full financial partner in your marriage.
  • Get the lowdown. At a minimum, know where the key financial papers are (such as wills, insurance policies and the deed to your home), the names of your financial service providers, how much you have in your investment accounts and how the money is allocated.
  • Take small bites. If your partner has been handling most of the finances for years, ease into greater involvement one project at a time, says financial planner Violet Woodhouse, who is also a lawyer. For example, the next time an insurance policy needs to be renewed, call around to collect quotes, and see if another company is offering a better deal.

Advice for both

  • Focus on the goal. If you start the conversation with a negative, your partner will hear only the criticism, and the discussion has nowhere to go but down from there.
  • Get the facts. Money is a hugely emotional topic. (Duh.) Defuse it by making sure you both know what's going on with your debt, assets and income. You can debate through eternity who flashes the plastic with more reckless abandon. How best to pay off a specific credit-card balance given your monthly income and expenses is a question you can actually resolve.
  • Note: It's not a contest. Don't put your energy into trying to convince your partner you're right about a particular course of action. "Trying to prove your spouse wrong is the wrong way to go," says psychologist Jonathan Rich, author of The Couple's Guide to Love and Money. Aim instead to create a plan that works for both of you.
  • See the full feature from the April issue of MONEY Magazine
  • What couples are fighting about
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