Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Demanding Relative

Dear Jocelyn,
I am hosting a party for my daughter. I have invited only immediate family to it. Now, I have a relative telling me that if I do not invite her boyfriend (of less than a year), she will not come. What should I do?
-Give In?

Dear Give,
It depends - how important is it to you that this party is only immediate family? If you can easily fit in this boyfriend, it might be worth it to keep the peace. However, if there is no room, or if you wished for this to be a relatives-only affair, simply tell her that you are sorry, but you are only having immediate family there. If she reiterates her threat, then tell her you are sorry she won't be able to make it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Won't He Talk About Money?

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a question about how to approach sharing money in a marriage. My boyfriend and I have been together for a long time, so of course we think of getting married someday. His parents are wealthier than mine, and his career also generates more money than mine does. He likes to buy his parents expensive gifts for holidays and birthdays—things my parents would like but cannot afford. Before marriage, these choices are his, but if/when we get married, I feel that his money and my money become our money, which means we have to agree on how to spend it.

When I heard of the most recent gift he bought his parents, I mentioned that as a married couple, I thought it would be fair to buy expensive gifts for our parents only if we can afford to give comparable gifts to both sets so we don’t favor either his or mine. He shut the conversation down, as he does with most conversations about money. I worry that he secretly thinks that he should be able to do what he wants with “his money” and that “what he wants” might not include my family. I worry that he thinks my family deserves their debt because he doesn’t agree with all their choices. I also worry that his parents may unconsciously expect these expensive gifts from him and that I might become the “bad guy” in their eyes—or worse, his—if I would rather save money than buy expensive gifts for anyone, even if we could afford it in the short term. He says that when we get married, things will change and that our new family will take priority over either his parents or mine. But should I believe that based on his current actions? How does one prepare for such a big change?

Please help! I know that arguments about money are all too common in marriages, and I want to learn how to deal with this topic fairly and effectively before committing to a lifetime with him or anyone. What are some common guidelines that people follow? How do we figure out what works for us? What does it mean if we simply disagree with each other?

Expecting Fairness

Dear Expecting Fairness,
You're right - money is one of the most common things people argue about in marriage! How one handles finances is very personal and reflects how a person was raised, his values, priorities, and personality. 

It is good to think about how your boyfriend's current behaviors would play out in marriage - that is something people commonly don't do. (Many people simply get married and assume all will be fine, and then are surprised to find out it isn't.) I applaud you on really thinking this through.
It is fair of you to ask him to discuss how he expects to handle money as a married couple. How much will you spend, save, give away? (Rough estimates are all that is required, not exact figures!) Will you combine bank accounts and incomes? If you have children and decide to stay home, will he view it as his money that you get some of, or is it the family's money?

What isn't fair is to hound him about why he is spending his money in a certain way, when he might not make the same choices once you marry. Don't forget, you likely spend money on things that he thinks are frivolous - eating out, books, clothing, etc. You might be a bit miffed if he questioned you spending money on take-out because he expects that you and he will cook at home once married.  I
t is not fair to judge him on how he buys gifts for his family as a single person. Keep in mind - right now he is the sole arbiter of his money, and if he likes to spend money on expensive gifts for his family, so be it! That is completely within his rights. You say you believe that "before marriage, that choice is his," but the rest of your letter belies that statement.

You say he shuts down most conversations about money - this can indicate different things based on the circumstances. Is he very closed off about money in general? Or do you frequently ask him hypothetical questions about money in future situations? If the latter, he might simply be shutting down because he doesn't want to talk about what might be.

It sounds like a related question is how he feels about your family (in-laws are another top argument for married couples). Does he typically treat them respectfully? Or does he seem to judge their life choices or have some disdain for them?

I would highly recommend that once you are engaged, you two take Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU), and getting premarital counseling. FPU is an excellent class which teaches budgeting, saving, getting out of debt, buying a home, and much more. My husband and I attended this class before we married, and it worked wonders in getting us on the same page about money. At the very least, it will get you talking about the right things. 

Premarital counseling is simply a tool to get you two discussing your differences in an open way so you go into your marriage more informed about the other person. It helps you learn ways to resolve differences and stay in love. If he has issues with your parents or with money, this is where you should discuss it. 

Note - I said to do this once you are engaged. Before then, this stuff is not something that needs to be discussed terribly in-depth. Not until you are engaged (at which point you can reasonably expect to spend your lives together) do you need to explore all these issues.

I hope this helps you resolve the issue!


Saturday, November 3, 2012

How Do You Know If a Relationship is Healthy?

Dear Jocelyn,
What are the traits of a healthy relationship vs. an unhealthy one? If one of your patients were talking to you about a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, what do you look out for to assess whether the relationship has problems?

Dear Curious,
That is an excellent question! A healthy relationship is as unique as the people in it. The couple might be quiet, or loud, or teasing, or respectful. It is difficult sometimes to judge what a healthy relationship can look like since everybody has their own preconceived notions of what a happy couple should do - therefore, if two people do not fit that mold, they might be perceived as incompatible.

It is also difficult to predict which couples will succeed, and which will fail, considering the myriad of factors that go into a divorce or a lifelong marriage. However, one researcher I greatly respect has made that his life's work. Dr. John Gottman has conducted several studies, in one of which he was able to predict whether a couple stayed married or got divorced with a 93.6% accuracy rate.

His book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work explains how successful couples interact. These principles are explained briefly here. They include turning towards each other, nurturing fondness and admiration, and letting your partner influence you.

Dr. Gottman's research also showed what negative characteristics couples had that pointed them towards divorce. Those were criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

These guidelines might seem pretty commonsense, but they can be revolutionary for some couples. It boils down to whether the behaviors and feelings in a relationship are usually positive or negative. So, if you are trying to tell if a couple is healthy or not, look for the little things. Do they compliment each other? Affectionately touch each other? Seem to respect the other person? Or instead, do they create distance, nitpick, and seem to have disdain for the other person? While obvious milestones may seem to define a relationship (marriage, children, etc.), it is the little, day-to-day actions that determine whether they will last.

I hope this helps!