They say it takes a village to raise a child. That may be the case, but it takes a lot of solid, stable marriages to create a village.

- Diane Sollee,

Money in Marriage/Relationships

What We Give

Make a Living by What We Get, Make a Life by What We Give

[frame align=”left]Resolving Money Conflict in Marriage[/frame]

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Good money advice is as priceless as it is timeless. The same can be said of good relationship advice, and for most couples, good money management and a solid marriage go hand in hand. Meet the O’Connors, a couple whose competing financial philosophies are pushing their relationship to the breaking point.
Michelle and James O’Connor have it good. Michelle works as a realtor, and James is an associate, soon to be partner at one of Madison’s top law firms. The couple owns a nice home and has two great kids, Jon and Jocelyn. Michelle and James owe much of their success to their parents who raised them in supportive families and put them through college.
Two years ago, Michelle’s parents retired very comfortably and they visit often and travel the world. James’ parents envisioned a similar retirement and his father planned to stop working at age 65 with a sizable pension from the company where he worked for more than two decades. However, the plant shut down and he unexpectedly lost his job the same year James graduated from law school. The job loss significantly reduced his pension and wreaked havoc on their retirement strategy. After more than a year with no success finding a job in his field, at age 57, his father took a job at the local hardware megastore to earn income and get health benefits.
Now 65, James’ father draws his modest pension, receives Social Security, and continues to work at the hardware store. James thinks it’s time for his father to stop working. James has helped his parents since he became a lawyer; at first, he helped pay their bills and now he sends money to improve their quality of life. Each month, James also adds to an emergency fund for their future needs and medical expenses.
With the recent downturn in the real estate market, Michelle is concerned about her own income and believes they should worry less about James’ parents. “James and I are both devoted to our parents,” Michelle says. “But James feels guilty if his parents don’t have the same things my parents can afford. Last year, when my parents treated our family to a Disney trip, James insisted we pay to bring his parents, too. I admire his loyalty, but his brothers don’t contribute anything and we have other obligations such as our retirement and saving for college. I’m worried we’ll end up in the same boat as his parents, but James tells me not to be concerned.”
“After all they’ve done for me, I want them to have a good life and be able to enjoy spending time with my kids,” James says. “I don’t want my parents to worry about their future so I’m setting aside money in an emergency fund. We can’t count on Medicare to be enough for all the care they might need. What frustrates me the most is she knew before we married that this was an obligation I take seriously. I’m not going to live in a nice home and drive nice cars and travel the world with Michelle’s parents while mine sit at home and figure out if they can afford to eat dinner at a restaurant.”
Voyant asked Judith Sloan-Price, a marriage therapist in Austin, Texas, to provide some perspective.
“Fortunately, James and Michelle agree on the most basic principals underlying their conflict: they are appreciative of their parents and consider themselves a resource should their parents need financial help. The principals they don’t necessarily agree about are: how much help is enough and should supporting James’ parents take precedence over all other priorities, such as retirement and college?
“The answer is: James and Michelle should contribute what they can comfortably afford – after first meeting their immediate obligations, including retirement, college and setting aside money in case of economic downturns. James’ parents are able to meet their basic needs without assistance from James. Thus, enhancing his parents’ lifestyle is a line-item in what to do with the couple’s disposable income (the money available after James and Michelle’s basic and most pressing needs have been addressed).
“Guilt should not be a driving force in James’ giving. And the barometer for how much help is enough should not be based upon Michelle’s parents’ quality of life. That makes it too tempting to give more than the couple can actually afford in tougher times, which causes marital tension. Also, I suspect James’ parents would be appalled to know they are the source of any marital unrest. They probably assume the couple is in accord and can afford the gifts. In fact, based upon seeing the quality of the son they raised, I sincerely doubt James’ parents feel entitled to have the same lifestyle as Michelle’s parents. They will value and appreciate any assistance the couple provides.
“Knowledge gives us the ability to create a plan and move forward, and in doing so, reduces anxiety. Michelle is anxious because of what she doesn’t know. She needs proof there is money available to cover all their future goals in addition to enhancing the quality of James’ parents’ life. Evidence of a solid financial plan is far more comforting than any words of reassurance from James. James should show her they have a plan that will work in good times and bad. Women are often more security-conscious than men. Once Michelle feels secure, she’s likely to be more accommodating where there is ‘wiggle room’ – such as cutting back what she spends on home furnishings or clothing so there’s extra for taking his parents on vacation.”

Judith Sloan-Price, LCSW, is a marriage counselor in Austin, TX

This article is reprinted with permission from Voyant, Inc. Click here to read the article on Voyant’s website.

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Judith Sloan-Price, LCSW

Judith Sloan-Price, Austin LCSW
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