It is no secret that marriage comes with its fair share of baggage and finances are a huge part of everyday marital discussion, and harmony or discord depending on how a couple handles it. While it is easy to handle days where all is rosy and well, it is quite the opposite for them rocky-road days where nothing seems to be going well financially and the relationship is just on the verge of hitting rock bottom if it already hasn’t done so.
I just want to share some ways that couples get into financial disharmony and how they can work their way back up to peace, yes its possible.
First off, it really helps to be as transparent as possible with your significant other about your personal financial state as soon as possible you initiate your relationship. Sharing this information not only nurtures the trust and honesty component of the relationship, it paves way for future financial dealings and conflict management. It is imperative to know and understand how your SO views finances, where you disagree, so you can draw mutual decisions for the future. So many families suffer because the couple spends lavishly on a wedding yet completely disregards the fact that both of them have gigantic student loans, or car loans, or even a mortgage to take care of AS A TEAM as soon as marriage happens. You are in it for better or for worse.
It amazes me how integral finances are in marriage yet because of their nature they are also the least discussed among couples, and more argued about. There is a difference between discussion, understanding, and plain out imposing decisions on your family. I have seen enough middle aged men make enough financial mistakes in their lives to make their spouse or children suffer in the long run. Unfortunately, in eastern “culture” (not religion, mind you) since the man is the main breadwinner, he also enjoys the cap of making all financial decisions without discussing it with the only person who is responsible for budgeting, accounting, and investing his earnings, i.e. his spouse.
Usually women are the ones taking charge of how money should be spent in-house, yet where the money is coming from is the least of their concern. And men who toil day and night to earn take little or no interest in where the hard earned money is being used up. A family or a household is an organization in its own and at least the finance part of it needs to be run like it does in an organization, as a team effort amongst the spouses. This includes understanding every aspect of money, where is it coming from (halal means or not), and how is it going to be used on a daily/monthly/annual and even long term basis.
The great thing about our generation is that nowadays girls and boys are getting the same education, and aspiring to be financially stable. I know so many single people who are doing amazingly well for themselves yet as soon as they get married their financial intellect takes a hit. Finances are too big of an issue to keep at the back burner. If they won’t haunt you, they will haunt your children at some point in the future and that won’t be the best of places to be in since you both will be held accountable by them for any financial burdens you pass onto them.
So what can be done?
Well, for starters, like I said, understanding your spouse’s financial expectations, and needs is necessary. Then regular and open communication about expenses, and investments is necessary. Just like physical and emotional cheating hurts the relationship so does financial cheating. Hiding any finance aspect of your life from your spouse will hurt your relationship just like any other form of cheating will.
It helps to keep a documented analysis of expenses, discretionary income, long term financial goals, and expectations. You cannot keep dreaming of buying a mansion without actually making an effort to save up for it, or worse, buy it and then default on it a few years down the road.
It also helps to keep your children in the loop as early as possible to teach them about handling finances, and give them a perception of how much finances should be a part of family and marriage. Children learn major life lessons from parents no matter how much they deny it. We are unconsciously teaching our children everything about handling life when they grow up, and whether we like it or not, they are taking their own understanding of it all.
This brings me to my next point of reaching a financial roadblock in marriage. Couples are bound to struggle with finances at some point in life. It may be small or big, it may leave you penniless and homeless, or it may just make you reflect on making amends to your current expenditure and savings plan. Whatever it is, you cannot avoid it once its there so there are two things to remember. First, if you are a team, you will handle it just like a business where partners suffer profit and loss together. Blaming each other will do nothing but inflict more harm. Second, once the problem occurs it needs a solution, not a constant reminder that it has occurred. The sooner both parties accept the problem, the sooner a solution can be reached.
My favorite Ayah about marriage is 2:187, “they are your garments, and you are a garment to them”. The Ayah addresses husbands primarily, yet includes wives first. And I feel it covers each and every aspect of marriage completely, whether it be emotional needs, psychological or physical needs, or financial needs. There is no rule about finances just being a husband thing or a wife thing to be handled according to Islamic history. We have had Muslim queens who handled riches just as well as any king. Hazrat Khadijah RA was the financial solace Allah Provided to our beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. Having a garment ensures protection and from all sorts of dangers to the body. In the case of finances in marriage, our spouse is supposed to protect, and be accountable for decisions impacting the family. It also means that we can only use the garment we have so we should not be having unrealistic financial goals at the expense of marital harmony or family life. A husband who just earns is nothing more than a machine, and a wife who just spends is nothing more than that either.
Finally I would just like to say that like any long lasting partnership and investment, marriage too requires patience, mutual understanding, clear communication, and compromise-every day, for the rest of your life. Just like we would treat a business partner with respect and integrity, we should do the same with our spouse. Discussing finances shows you both respect each other’s acumen, caliber, and decision making skills. The ultimate goal is to help our children learn from us too, so in essence if we handle finances in our marriage wisely, all our generations to come will appreciate our input. There is no sleep better than that of a person’s who has little yet is content with whatever he has.