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Money and marriage: How to avoid conflict



Edifa - published on 05/11/21

Talking about money can often help avoid having to settle scores.

“In the 19th century, society was obsessed with knowledge, in the 20th century with power, and in the 21st century with money,” says Father Geoffroy Marie, the prior of Notre-Dame de Cana, in Troussures (Oise), who has been holding retreats for couples for the past 25 years. The influence of consumer society on couples has never been so strong.

“Those who don’t talk about money still breathe in the pollution it creates without realizing it,” says the priest. According to the prior, money issues must be addressed as soon as the couple is engaged, because “this crucial question hides an anthropological dimension.” So much so that Fr. Guillaume de Menthière, a parish priest in Paris, had to add a special session on this theme to his program of preparations for a wedding.

Is money made to be spent, accumulated, passed on? How can this concern be put in  its right place?

Prenuptial agreements, joint accounts, etc. 

Even before the engagement, the option of a prenuptial agreement reveals the intentions of the persons involved. The financial reflection of the indissolubility of marriage is that the assets acquired during a marriage are shared equally between the spouses. In the case of a prenuptial agreement where assets are separated, each spouse keeps the full ownership of what they each own and earn. The couple should talk about what the prenuptial agreement – often proposed by the parents or unilaterally – inspires in them, because one of the two may have a hard time with it, seeing this option as a sign of mistrust.

“If there is a problem, then he wants his money to stay in the family,” one young wife said when she found out that her fiancé wanted to opt for a separation of property. She was reassured when her husband-to-be, who was setting up his own business, explained to her that he wanted this only to protect her in case his business went bankrupt. 

Couples want an answer to the question: “Who pays for what?” When a child comes into the picture, there is the question of whether a parent should stay at home. The case of women choosing to stay at home instead of working at a paid job comes up frequently in the marital conflicts encountered by Sabrina de Dinechin, president of the Association of Christian Family Mediators. She says she has to use all her skills to make couples understand that “one does not participate in the needs of the household only by bringing in coins, but also through daily life, especially with all the attention that a mother can give to her child: care, shopping, time.” A mother who does not earn money should be able to spend the money earned by her husband, and even contribute to controlling the common budget, each bringing their own specificity to the family.

Regardless of having a joint account or an established system of compensatory payments, “there is no objective financial equality in a marriage” warns family mediator Véronique Gervais. And this is where the problem lies. Money does not always represent the same thing to both spouses. For one thing, being raised in a family environment of free-spending or thrifty parents can have an impact on the way they view money. It will be a matter of “uprooting oneself from one’s place of origin to finally put down roots together,” explains Aldo Naouri, a specialist in family relations, and author of Les Couples et Leur Argent (Couples and Their Money). 

Married life is fraught with financial dilemmas

Money can have different symbolic meanings. A very busy man can compensate for his absence by gratifying his wife financially, for example. “Money is more than money,” says our family mediator. “It’s not necessarily pettiness. Hanging on to 10 euros can represent a request for damages, a need for security, a way of asserting oneself, of existing in the eyes of the other.” Money can represent success, power, or security. One person can work too much, because they need to be valued, another can do the same due of a lack of emotional security. If couples were to delve deeper into the source of their financial disagreements, they would understand each other better.

All the more so since married life is marked by financial dilemmas, as Dominique Larricq, national team leader at Tandem Couple, observes: “Do we travel or help a loved one?” ”Do we spend or invest our inheritance?” “Once everyone is clear about their relationship to money, they can think as a couple about how to put it to good use together,” explains Flore Barbet-Massin, coordinator of the Zachée program. This 13-night self-training program in the social teachings of the Church, with classes and a sharing group, includes practical exercises. By identifying their “futile and fertile possessions,” Flore and Christophe, for example, “realized what was weighing them down.” Knowing more about their own and each other’s weak points, they can better understand one another and help each other avoid falling into their shortcomings. Flore is now more resistant to “therapy through shopping,” as she humorously puts it, and Christophe is more committed to keeping accounts to make her feel secure. Together, they learn to “know where to put the cursor” between spending and hoarding.

A couple’s financial choices shows how closely they are following the dominant mood in the world, or on the contrary, how distant they keep themselves from it. This is where they can mark their priorities concretely. “Do we give up saving for retirement to pay for the children’s education?” There might be a divergence of opinions on this. In the face of such dead-end situations, Fr. Geoffroy-Marie draws attention to a more fundamental question: “Is the use of my money going to allow me to become what I am, in relation to myself, my spouse, and our marriage?”

Whether they are managing an abundance or lack of resources, a Christian couple must question their relationship to money in the light of the Gospel. What is the danger? The danger is “idolization” according to Fr. Geoffroy-Marie, which occurs when the relationship to money weighs on the couple to the point of influencing its place in the perception of the very meaning of their life.

Taking stock once a year

A couple is not defined by its wealth, or its material poverty, but by what it really is. Will becoming a homeowner help them grow? Is it necessary to accept this better-paid but more demanding job? Wanting at all costs to accumulate money, even with the aim of passing it on, risks turning money into a god, and therefore, cutting oneself off from God.

“How can we find a fair use of our assets in order to allow for the growth of our being?” asks Fr. Geoffroy-Marie, noting that “a person anchored in being has an easier, more detached relationship to money.” He “shakes up engaged couples” so that they talk about it, and emphasizes in his retreats in Troussures that it is necessary to take stock as a couple once a year. Indeed, “behind the relationship to money, there is a relationship to life, and those who do not talk about it put in brackets an important issue in their life as a couple,” he says.

Father Geoffroy-Marie then urges the spouses to ask themselves how they can take into consideration the danger of money, denounced in the Bible. “Why does Jesus attack the rich so much? Not because of their bank accounts, but because their wealth can easily become an alienation.” Wealth is neutral if it does not affect the being or happiness of the couple, and if it does not inspire a logic about possessions. To feel guilty about possessing money is sterile; on the contrary, money can help to create relationships with others through giving and sharing. Being husband and wife means helping each other to make good choices.

Olivia de Fournas

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