By Chuck Bentley

The millions spent on Valentine’s Day may fuel the passions of new love, but if you want “happily ever after” you may want to consider a budget.

I once counseled newlyweds, who just six months after their wedding, were struggling to keep their marriage together. The reason was no mystery. They had accumulated $180,000 of combined consumer and student loan debt on just $60,000 of income. The engagement, wedding, honeymoon and home furnishings were all purchased on credit cards and with loans from family.  Their financial picture was shocking, even to me. Unfortunately, their marriage did not last through their first year and bankruptcy was in the future for both.

While many couples pledge to stay together “for richer, for poorer,” making a plan for handling both can help you keep that promise.

Researchers have found that money fights are the best predictor of divorce – more poisonous than conflicts over kids, sex, the in-laws or any other points of contention.

“Results revealed it didn’t matter how much you made or how much you were worth,” said Kansas State University researcher Sonya Britt. “Arguments about money are the top predictor for divorce because it happens at all levels.”

And yet, couples seem to want to wait to fight about money until after the wedding.

Sixty-eight percent of engaged couples polled by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling reported negative attitudes about discussing money with their fiancé, while five percent said that the discussion would lead them to call off the wedding.

In reality, you can talk about money before the wedding, or fight about it after. But the subject will come up.

Matchmakers through the centuries, all the way to the computerized services of today, begin with the idea that you need to consider people’s unique personalities to create a connection. Apparently, you need to know much the same thing to follow a budget. Over 15 years, Crown developed Personality I.D.®,  that details how an individual’s make up can translate into their financial decisions. In counseling thousands of couples over Crown’s more than 40 years, we learned that before a man and woman say, “We do” they should ask, “Who are you?”

Some people may find comfort in realizing that their reluctance to tackle money issues may come from their unique make up. About 1 in 5 Americans surveyed by the Princeton Survey Research Associates said that they do not keep track of their finances at all. And the rest often stray from the straight and narrow as other goals take precedence. But it may not be their fault.

For couples desiring the “two to become one”, understanding your partner’s unique make up can build respect for the way each person makes decisions. Balancing strengths and weaknesses will make the team stronger – but not if the budget becomes a battleground.

Couples need to make a plan to prevent both a marriage and financial disaster.

Begin by understanding each other’s goals and needs. It is likely that one will desire security and high attention to detail while the other desires freedom and prefers not to have to think about the finances at all. This is not unusual and can become a strength of the marriage when responsibilities are divided appropriately.  Give each other the freedom to operate in their area of giftedness.  Stubborn pride must be set-aside with so much at stake.

Next, share any money secrets. Couples should review their credit reports and reveal any problems they have had managing their finances. Transparency will lead to greater trust. 

Then, set a time to talk each month. Tackling tough financial conversations should take place regularly, preferably at a set time, so issues won’t be ignored until a crisis. Making it part of your routine also helps to create a forum for decision making that doesn’t put one party on the spot.

Money should not become the wedge that pries a couple apart. Money is a tool, used to build up a family, and used wisely it becomes an investment in happily every after.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, www.crown.org