(Project Ezrah created a new program, The Aisle: A Path Toward Financial Fidelity, specifically to recognize and address the importance of “shalom kesef” within a marriage. Please see the ad on this page.)
So goes an old song…but is there merit in this statement? Does financial distress really impact a marriage? Project Ezrah asked family therapists, and all agreed that many times a marriage will unravel along with a financial tight spot. In fact, over 70 percent of couples seeking therapy do so because of money issues.
The Aisle was created through many interactions with therapists, rabbis and financial consultants. One of the most important segments in the seminar is stressing the importance and value of communication, the most important tool in a marriage.
A young couple is faced with many new-to-them decisions. However, before discussing the wedding invitation list, caterer, band or hall, the young couple should begin their financial communication and start discussing financial issues. Brent Kessel, chief executive of Kubera Portfolios, a money management firm, agrees: “Money is one of the leading causes of divorce. Talking about money before you get married is critical.” Where to begin? Communication.
Real communication is when each partner listens to the other and fully understands how the other is feeling and why.
Communicate! A young couple should discuss all financial issues that will be new to them as a couple. Plan a detailed budget together, because budgeting, spending and paying are all two-person jobs. Who will be responsible for paying monthly bills? Will there be discussion over “significant” purchases? Will there be a weekly allotment for each partner’s miscellaneous spending? Decide together on what is enough money.
And don’t forget to dream! Discuss children; will one spouse stay home or will both continue to work? Yeshiva tuition is costly; discuss whether sacrifices of vacations or clothing allowance, etc. should be made to provide your children with the type of education you most value. Where do you want to live eventually? What does housing cost there? How much should be put into savings each month? If belts need to be tightened in the future, what will each spouse be willing to give up? Keep talking. Keep communicating.
The Aisle seminar has a fun segment to help couples surmount the difficulty and discomfort of talking about money. This “game” opens up discussions and gives each couple a base they can use throughout the partnership.
There is often a difference of opinion about what is enough or what is “expected” of them when a couple starts to plan their first budget. For example, one spouse may believe that the couple’s combined income is totally sufficient for the lifestyle he/she envisions, while the other sees it as a poor comparison to their peer group’s (imagined) income. This can be a flash point, creating pressure and building up to many arguments. How to handle it? Discuss both viewpoints. Listen. Hear. Communicate.
Even a “luxury” lifestyle has a budget. When the money needed to pay the bills for food, shelter, transportation, entertainment, clothing etc. is greater than a couple’s (anyone’s) income, trouble starts to brew. “When bills pile up, debt can easily erode personal relationships,” explained one therapist. Therapists agree that emotional turmoil inside a marriage often reflects the couple’s inability to manage finances in concert, leading to stress. The solution? Communicate.
For marital security and peace of mind (what Project Ezrah has termed “shalom kesef”), both husband and wife must take ownership of their finances. Both must know all about their finances all the time, what Project Ezrah calls financial fidelity. If and when a financial problem does arise, they must be prepared to work together to immediately find ways to improve their situation and get the appropriate help. Quick action will stem the erosion of both their finances and the bedrock of their marriage. The key here: Communicate.
Keeping the lines of communication open will not only foster respect for one another but it will give the couple the foundation and strength to ford unforeseen financial—and other—pitfalls.
By Susan G. Alpert
Susan Alpert is director of development at Project Ezrah.