Marriage coaching for couples with financial problems

In a December 2008 episode titled “Families under Fire,” Dr. Phil interviewed two couples whose marriages are under extreme strain due to financial matters. At the end of the segment, he shared specific marriage coaching strategies for improving marital relations during tough economic times.

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Dr. Phil’s Marriage Survival Guide for Tough Times

Dr. Phil identified seven specific steps that couples can take to weather tough financial problems.

Acknowledge and work the problem. Instead of getting angry, be honest and calm. Identify the problem and discuss what needs to be done to fix it.
Marriage coaching strategies suggests to identify the stressors in your relationship. Don’t put blame on a spouse when the problem is really the economy and the couple’s particular situation. Placing blame irrationally is counterproductive.
Acknowledge fear. In this segment, the husband was having difficulty sharing his fears with his wife. Dr. Phil suggested that the husband open up about his fears and that the wife be open to hearing those thoughts.
Have emotional integrity. According to Dr. Phil, egos should be put aside. He also urges spouses to keep promises to one another (as in, if you say you’re going to get a job, then do it).
Be willing to ask for help. Collaborate and work in unison toward the same goal. One spouse cannot single-handedly save a household’s sinking financial ship if the other is not on board, especially if the other spouse is doing things to counteract any progress.
List priorities, values and goals. Dr. Phil indicates that it’s okay to have different priorities. However, the couple’s collective goals should be merged into a single plan to ensure overall success.
Have an action plan. Dr. Phil said,“The difference between a dream and a plan is a timeline. You’ve got to do checkups on yourself and see, ‘Am I moving forward?’” He suggests setting reasonable, realistic goals that both spouses can agree on and get excited about.

Advice for Couples with Financial Problems

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Dr. Phil’s no-nonsense advice pointed out some harsh realities to the couples on the show, and common sense dictates that this particular strategy should work well for many couples under financial stress. His advice basically boiled down to honesty and commitment.

During these tough economic times, couples need this advice more than ever, adds marriage coaching expert Dr. Phil.

Separate or Joint Bank Accounts for Spouses?

Money is often cited as the leading cause of problems in marriages, but married couples can find a way to manage their money with fewer arguments and less stress. Spouses should decide whether having separate or joint bank accounts are the best solution for their money management plan.

When Married Couples Have Separate Accounts

Some spouses choose to keep their finances completely separate. With this financial strategy, each partner has a collection of bills to pay. Couples who marry at a later age or who are remarried may find this strategy useful, suggests marriage coaching expert.

Married couples in favor of separate accounts say they are able to retain their independence and don’t need to ask permission to spend their own money. Also, they do not burden their spouses with pre-existing credit card debt or other money problems.

There are some challenges for married couples who choose to keep their finances separate. Couples with separate accounts must keep very detailed records to ensure that all bills are paid, especially ones that only crop up once a year, says Kiplinger’s Personal Finance reporter Stacy Rapacon in, “Marriage and Money.”

And married couples who don’t want to burden each other with financial details may find that when financial problems arise they are slower to communicate about these money problems. By the time they share the information, the situation may be very serious. That’s why couples who choose to keep their accounts separate must be sure to communicate about their financial strategy and any money problems.

Joint Bank Accounts for Spouses

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A second option for married couples is to combine all their money into a joint savings and joint checking account. Under this plan, all household money is pooled into the joint accounts and all bills are paid from these. It is easy to track all expenses with this method.

“It also helps us keep our marriage transparent,” Therese Lizardo-Escaño told Rapacon. “Because we know how everything is being spent, we can ask questions if we have any.” Joint accounts require a willingness to discuss money management, to compromise when there is disagreement and to agree on a spending limit for purchases that are not discussed in advance.

According to Matthew Paulson’s June 29, 2007 article, “Should a Married Couple Combine Their Finances?”, there are significant advantages to having joint accounts even if it can be challenging to agree on household money management. “Two people with shared common goals can accomplish a lot more than two spouses going off in their own direction,” Paulson says. “It’ll make sure that you two know what’s going on in each other’s financial lives. You’ll discuss shared goals and ideas and work together to accomplish them.” About.com financial planning guide Jeremy Vohwinkle agrees. In “Joint Or Separate Checking Accounts?” Vohwinkle says joint accounts can be the easiest logistically, but notes this method may not work well if one partner is deeply in debt or has trouble keeping up with ATM receipts.

Shared & Personal Bank Accounts for Spouses

The final option for household money management is for couples to have a joint account for household expenses and separate individual accounts. Under this plan, partners agree how much each spouse will pay into the joint account each month. Married couples with similar salaries would each pay half of the expenses. Couples with a large difference in their salaries would agree to pay a percentage of the expenses based on their incomes. Willis cautions that couples need to focus on working together, rather than deciding who is “worth” more and gets a larger vote. The remaining money would go into the individual accounts to be used as needed or desired.

“I believe that all women and a lot of men psychologically need their own money,” Olivia Mellan told Rapacon as a marriage coaching suggestion. Mellan is the author of Money Harmony, [Walker & Co., 1994]. “It allows them a sense of autonomy in the midst of intimacy.”

Indeed, couples who use this method find that they have the financial independence to make the purchases they choose without clearing them with their spouse. “One of the big advantages to this method is that each person retains his or her own autonomy and financial independence, which helps avoid the use of money as power in the relationship,” Vohwinkle says. Fighting may be reduced because neither partner has to justify or explain their spending.

Married couples can reduce marital problems and fights about money by choosing a financial strategy that works for them. Marriage coaching expert wraps up saying couples should decide whether separate accounts, joint accounts or a combination of both is the best for their household money management style.

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