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Ask Dave

Setting Her Marriage Up For Success

Rebecca and her boyfriend are talking about getting married and discussing finances. Dave gives Rebecca his recommendations for setting her marriage up for success.

QUESTION: Rebecca in Los Angeles says she and her boyfriend are talking about getting married, and they’re talking finances. She is 39, and he’s 45. Dave gives Rebecca his recommendations for setting her marriage up for success.

ANSWER: You are wise maybe even more so than you realize because the number one cause of divorce—all the research points to this—is money fights and money problems. The reason is we’re not really fighting over money because money flows to what we care about. It’s a point of fighting really. You asking these questions, and you guys having a lot of discussions, even in your premarital counseling, is absolutely vital. If you want to statistically—and it’s kind of cold to approach it this way—increase your chances of a marriage working, marriage counselors and all of the data tells us there are four major areas you need to go in-depth on prior to marriage. The further and the more agreement you can have in these four areas, the higher statistically the chances are that your marriage is going to stay together.

Number one, by far, is money. Number two is kids. How he interacts with his kid and how that affects your relationship is going to be a big deal. If you’re going to have children together going forward, how you handle them is going to be a big deal. The third one is in-laws. If his mother’s crazy, you need to know that now. You need to know how we as a couple are going to deal with crazy mother. Somewhere in one of your families is a nutburger. The last area is religion.

Where he is isn’t as big of a problem as where he’s going. Normally, opposites attract. Typically, a spender attracts a saver. That’s what’s happened here. He’s entrepreneurial, so risk doesn’t bother him as much. You’re going to help him because, if he’s like a lot of entrepreneurs, his risk meter is completely broken. You may be his risk meter. You’ll probably be of great benefit to him to teach him to a) get out and stay out of debt and b) build up some cash because it will change his business if he does that. The problem is not the debt that he’s in. The problem is the debt he’ll get into if you’re not in agreement.

You’ve got a major problem here. If you take what you’ve got right now and you marry it, it’s going to multiply times 10. You think he’s defensive now? Wait until hyou’re married and he feels trapped by your ideas about debt. You can’t be married and keep things separate. It doesn’t work. This is a deal breaker, so what I would suggest is rather than abandon the relationship—because the relationship is going to blow up over this issue if the issue isn’t dealt with, and he’s not dealing with it in a healthy way—spend a little time with a good quality marriage counselor. Go to your church and get some pre-marriage counseling with one of the counselors on staff or the pastors. Dig into this issue and get to where you can communicate on it to where you bringing it up isn’t viewed as an attack on his masculinity. That’s how it feels to him right now. He feels like you’re not respecting him, and that’s not true. You are respecting him; you just disrespect his stupid behavior.

We have to be a team. We have to be on the same page going forward. It’s good for you to point out it’s the behavior you don’t like. It’s not him. Don’t let this go untreated and wander into marriage acting like this is not a big deal. It’s a big deal. It’s going to be exponentially harder to fix once you’re married. If he’s going to stand on the fact that he’s not willing to talk to you about money, you’re going to have a long life if you marry into that. Don’t do it. Fix it before or walk.