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Durban - “I have to make a confession,” a young bridegroom said to his bride shortly before their wedding. “I only earn $2 000 a month. Do you think you can make a living with that?”
“At a pinch, yes,” the bride replies in this old joke. “But what are you going to live off?”
Yes, there is a reason why “for richer or for poorer” is included in the standard wedding vows – money matters.
Men earn money and women spend it – this cliché is true for fewer couples compared to just a generation ago.
But has the way of handling money among married couples truly changed? Many believe it hasn’t.
Money, along with kids and sex, is one of the three biggest causes of fights in a relationship. In fact, money is one of the biggest causes of fights in general.
If couples argue about money, then this is usually subconsciously connected to financial conflicts in their family background, according to Professor Rolf Haubl, a social psychologist in Germany.
A “money-handling style” is learnt early on and then remains stable. “Often latent relationship problems are expressed through money,” says Haubl, who is the director of the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt.
Money signifies something different for men than for women. Men link money to success and power, while for women it signifies security and autonomy. In a society like ours, where money plays such an important role, it becomes a medium that “structures all our relationships surreptitiously”, Haubl says.
He considers “monetary competence” one of the most important cultural techniques. “We should learn early on not only what to do with money, but what it does with us.”
Aesha Adams Roberts, a family and relationship expert, says that most of the single women she speaks to worry about whether making more money than a man will complicate dating. “If she has far more assets and education than the man, they wonder, can relationships like that work? Will it mess with his male ego?
“Others think finding the right man (with the right credit score) will bring them financial security, and they dream of the day when two incomes will bring an end to their money burdens and lead to the life of their dreams,” she says.
On the other hand, the single men that she speaks to are so overwhelmed with the “self-imposed pressure to be the provider for their family, they think they have to make more money (and have the car and Rolex to prove it) before they can get the girl.
“Some men, burnt by divorce and left paying off their ex-wife’s debt, say that they’ll never marry again without a prenup. Still others hesitate to marry the girl of their dreams because she has too much debt and they want her to get her life together before their bank accounts become one.”
So do couples have to share their finances? Or is it just an old trend that needs to die? Surely it would be easier to have separate assets?
Newly engaged Durban couple Kim Straisser and her boyfriend, John Collins, seem to think so.
“What’s mine is mine. What’s his is his. It will be the same when we get married. That way there won’t be any problems about money,” says Kim.
“The last thing we want to argue about is money. It was never an issue when we were dating and it won’t be an issue now,” says John.
Happily married couple Devin and Kamista Naidoo disagree. They say that sharing a bank account is very important for their relationship.
“We share everything. Why not our money? Being able to share assets builds trust and creates transparency in a relationship,” said Kamista.
“We never fight about money, we don’t check each other’s slips or anything, but we do talk about how much we spend and what we should spend each month. I never have to hide what I’m buying and neither does she. If people find themselves with secret accounts and hidden till slips, there is a bigger problem in the marriage, not just money,” said her husband.
Jochen Cunz, a relationship counsellor, meets many couples like Kamista and Devin – couples who rarely fight over money. He has coached almost 500 couples and helped them through crisis situations in his more than 20 years’ work experience.
The most common problems are communication and sexual problems.
“During a marriage money is rarely an issue,” the therapist says. But after a separation money often comes up. “Emotional guilt is paid in money.” Another observation: “Women use their power over children and men over money.”
If you look at your circle of friends, you will find two types of couples. One will follow the mantra: “Why shouldn’t we share our money? We share everything else as well: children, house, bed, name –why not the bank account?”
The other group will have a different point of view: “It’s unthinkable for me to give up my bank account. It’s living proof of being autonomous.”
Banks have little information about how couples handle money today. Interesting question, they all agree – but no one can provide answers. There are, however, a few theories.
“Younger couples are less likely to share a bank account than their parents,” says one expert in the area of bank account strategy. The reason: “The pursuit of financial individuality and autonomy tends to result in more single bank accounts.”
“I would never share my hard-earned cash with anybody, what if we get a divorce?” said Zinhle Khanyile, a 29-year-old florist.
“I would never marry anybody because of their wealth, but I would need financial security.
“I can’t have somebody living off me. That is what really causes problems – when two people don’t earn the same amount.”
Echoing her words is Bradley Parker. An accountant who has been happily married for six years, Parker says: “My wife and I are in the same profession. We earn roughly the same amount. In a situation like this, whether we share our accounts or not doesn’t matter. We know that we can depend on each other for anything, money included, but she will never expect me to pay for everything and I would never expect that of her.
“Things are much better this way.” – Sunday Tribune, additional content from Reuters