The best ways to avoid financial conflict in marriage

Madhuri Y
financial crisis

Everyone believes their marriage is conflict- and divorce-proof

I was asked if I’d write about prenups, those iffy things that I had never thought of before my wedding. I said yes, but I cannot speak to you about them before I speak of financial conflict in marriages.

Twenty-four years ago, when I was getting married, the things that I had focused on were the love and trust I had felt in the person I was about to marry.

We were stepping out to start our new life and by God, we were going to do it right! We were the lucky ones!

I didn’t even need the home loan application, which he had brought from HDFC, to believe that I had a concerned, right-thinking person who had my – our – best wishes in mind.

Which was true at the time. The error was in believing that:

He would continue to remain so. He didn’t.

I would continue to retain my love and trust. I didn’t.

Related reading: You swore you’ll always be crazy about me, but you have changed!

Unrealistic optimism about the future

I look around and I understand today that I was not unique in being optimistic about my marriage. There’s a near-universal segment out there that holds an unrealistically optimistic view of one’s own future.

According to a Harvard study in the United States, although respondents recognised that the national rate of divorce was around 50 per cent, they believed that their own chance of divorce was only 11.7 per cent.


Apply that belief to marriages here in India, think of the near-100 per cent intact marriages of just a couple of decades ago.

Can you see what I chose to see before my wedding? That it’s so easy to believe that this thing called divorce isn’t going to happen to us?

If we are within a marriage, knowing this optimism statistic still doesn’t help us. Right at this point, we will continue to believe that a divorce isn’t going to happen to us.

And that’s fine too, because while the divorce statistic inches higher each day, it’s true that many marriages will not be at the threshold of divorce, not today.

Financial conflict in marriages

So let’s leave that divorce prospect aside, and let’s not talk of prenups for now. Let’s simply talk of marital conflict, which is real, and the fact that most married couples face conflict with a degree of severity that leaves scars on them.

Marital conflict

Among the many reasons, 39 per cent of couples listed finances as the primary reason for conflict and 54 per cent as the secondary reason.

We don’t often see marriages like Vanita’s, in which her husband would hand over his salary to her, taking just the 100 or 200 rupees – back in the ‘70s and thereon – that he needed for the month.

It’s equally unusual to see a marriage like Smita’s in which the husband checked the household purse in the almirah from time to time and filled it whenever it ran low.

These couples discuss financial matters with the readiness to listen and with give-and-take. They work with the shared understanding that most of us would wish to have about income, expenses, and savings.

The more common occurrence though is continuous conflict, due to which both feel the need to keep some amounts tucked quietly away. It turns into serious conflict when money becomes tight—debts have piled up, or both are out of work, or they are living on a pension, and so on—and one spouse spends on comforts or luxuries with the money that is really stretched to cover the month’s necessities.

Some common couple complaints

Common financial conflicts I have heard or experienced are:

“She buys a sari without looking at its price.”

“He spends on high-priced branded stuff which is such a waste of money.”

“He wants to go on a holiday when school fees are coming up.”

“She doesn’t see the need to invest. I may lose my job any time.”

“He lost money in bad schemes.”

“He loaned money to his family and none of it came back.”

“I am giving so much to manage the house! Why does she need more?”

Then there are matters of stridhan, the bride’s property. As Nandini says, “My husband sold the land that my father had given and invested it in the family business, which is managed by my father-in-law. Left unsold, it would have multiplied in value many times over.” She adds, “When we need money for our children’s big expenses, we are short. It isn’t that the family doesn’t help, but why have we placed ourselves in a position in which we need to ask?”

Married Life

Discussing finances

When we don’t discuss these key issues before the wedding, we are raising our chances of marital conflict.

As much as we need fusion and sharing in marriage, we also need our autonomy in things that matter to us, to truly appreciate the merits of a marriage.

As much as we need fusion and sharing in marriage, we also need our autonomy in things that matter to us, to truly appreciate the merits of a marriage.

Nothing highlights the need for fusion and autonomy in marriage better than how the couple handles the finances:

  • How is the bride’s property going to be invested? What happens to the income from it or its proceeds?
  • How does the groom’s property fare against this?

These two questions need to be discussed at the same time, since it is common to give the bride her stridhan, which is then managed by the groom or his family.

The questions to discuss before starting a marriage

Ideally, the bride should manage it herself and if she isn’t in a position to do so, she ought to be helped to do it. If that is not possible, her property should not be sold, invested or converted without her real consent, consent in which she truly has the option of saying ‘no’.

  • What is the family income – his and hers?
  • What part of it will go into household expenses? This answers the need for sharing and fusion in marriage.
  • What part of it will be set aside for each partner’s individual expenses? This answers the need for autonomy in marriage.
  • What are their financial goals? What part of the income will go into savings? This gives the understanding that helps them work towards the common financial goal.
  • What happens when one – usually the wife – takes a break for childcare or other family needs? What if the break remains permanent?

Discussing these matters well before the wedding and continuing to discuss financial matters whenever the situation requires it helps create financial harmony, which is a big element of marital harmony.

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Money, marriage and managing differences

Does it help to talk about mutual finances before marriage?

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1 comment

Neha Sharma
Neha Sharma May 28, 2018 - 1:59 pm

Married couples fighting over financial matters isn’t unheard of. In fact, money and financial conflict have been cited as one of the primary factors that eventually lead to separation and divorce.

And yes, I totally agree with the line: Money is something that must be talked about before marriage; however, many couples fail to do so. But it’s a must!

However, overcoming financial conflict in your marriage isn’t too complicated a task if you’re willing to work on fixing things. The bottom line is there’s no need to make money and finances the topic of contention in a marriage. Instead, take the financial responsibilities and started working on solving the issue.

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