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Ask Dave

His Model Should Be a Lighthouse

Jessica and her husband have been married two years and have separate finances. Jessica wants to combine them, but her husband is against the idea. How can she convince him to get on board?

QUESTION: Jessica in Lexington and her husband have been married two years. They have separate finances. Jessica wants to combine finances, but her husband is against the idea. How can she convince him to get on board and work with her on this subject?

ANSWER: The first thing we need to understand is you don’t take financial advice from broke people. His coworkers are not eligible to give financial advice. They don’t qualify. Plus, their marriages are not in great shape either—especially with stupid-butt statements like that. My God! “The woman runs everything.” Do these people drag their knuckles? What is this? I’m sorry. That’s just—wow. They said that out loud.

There’s a high correlation between people who have high-quality marriages and people who build wealth when they handle their money as one. Right now, you guys are existing as roommates. It is a relational mistake, and it’s a financial mistake. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get a divorce, but there’s a higher likelihood that you’re going to have marriage problems in this situation, and there’s a higher likelihood you’re not going to win with money. The purpose of operating together is—from a mathematical standpoint—you get economies of scale and synergy and each other’s advice and those kinds of things—the old “two heads are better than one” thing.

No, I don’t want the woman to run everything, and I don’t want the man to run everything. I want the couple to sit down as a couple and communicate about their future goals, their fears, their desires, their plans, their dreams, and then work together to achieve those. You both have a vote. In the old-fashioned marriage vows, it didn’t say, “And now I present you as a joint venture. And you are now called to both live separate lives, share one bed, and live in one house.” That is not what the marriage vows say. It says, “For better, for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, unto thee all my worldly goods I pledge.” These are the old-fashioned marriage vows, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that.

I recommend couples operate as one budget. Both of you have a vote. One of you is usually better at keeping up with details, and so you’re the one who implements the plan that you both design and approve. Whoever the detail person is—man or woman, I don’t care. In my house, I’m the detail person. Sharon’s not. But her wisdom is legendary in us making quality decisions. In other words, when I make some of my biggest faux pas is when I don’t involve the person who doesn’t write the checks. That’s when I screw up.

Learning to work together will cause you to communicate, cooperate, and have a shared value system. One marriage guy—Dennis Rainey—always said when you get married, you have two different plans. It’s like you have two different blueprints to build a house. One of you is going to build a trilevel, and one of you is going to build a ranch. If you don’t sit down and figure out how to adjust these plans to reflect both your dreams, you’re going to build a pretzel. You’ll look up, and he’s over here, “Well, I don’t have a vote.” Why don’t you have a vote? Are you a wuss? Of course you’ve got a vote. “I’m afraid I have to report to my wife.” Why? Are you henpecked? This is not me talking about being henpecked. I’m not henpecked. My wife doesn’t boss me around. I don’t boss her around. We’re two grown people who have an opinion, and we talk through the important parts of our life. I don’t understand why she buys some things she does, and I’m okay with allocating some of our money to that. She doesn’t understand why I buy some of the things I buy. “You need another gun?” Well, yeah, I’ve only got a few. I need another one. She doesn’t understand why you would need more than one. I’ve got to have another one. There’s some other thing like that, but all of that is just living together and loving each other well. It doesn’t mean I gave up the right to have a life or she gave up the right to have a life.

I’m going to push you to say this is very important for those reasons—to sit down together and say, “I’m really concerned about this.”

Let’s enter our marriage with a divorce as our plan. That’s what his dad’s saying. He’s taking advice from a wounded person. That’s where that comes from. He watched that, and he watched his dad and his mom. He sees that as his model. What it needs to be instead of his model is it needs to be a lighthouse. A lighthouse is the light that keeps you from hitting the rocks. You look at what they did and don’t do it. But it wasn’t the fact that they combined money that was the problem; it’s that one of them ruled the roost, and the other one didn’t. That was the problem. I think that’s what you guys have to talk through, and say, “Your dad’s wounded, so I love your dad, but I’m not going to take his advice on marriage.” His dad isn’t good at relationships. There are a lot of people who win with money and aren’t good at relationships. They’re called miserable rich people. I’ve got to win at both or I didn’t win by definition. If you’ve got to choose, choose relationships over money. I’m going to choose to win at both of them. That’s a choice you guys can make.

I think he’s dealing with bad information. You might get a little counsel from your pastor about the importance of this. Share with your pastor some of the things I said. Just a little coaching in the early days of your marriage is always a good thing. I just think it’s vital. I don’t think it’s the end of the world. I don’t think you’re going to divorce because of it—usually you’re not, sometimes you do—but to go ahead and say we’re going to keep everything separate in case this doesn’t work out . . . why do we do it? The way marriage works today is if you’re going to win at marriage, you’ve got to be willing to take a bullet for somebody. There are too many things attacking marriage now. There are too many things that mess it up, so you’ve got to be willing to fight for it and put it first—put it ahead of everything. I’m not going to plan my divorce as my first step into my marriage.