The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 9, 2000

Marriage ‘n’ Money
By Mohinder Singh

IN their forty years of marriage, Ravi and Reema have seen a sea change in money equation. For the first 20 years, Ravi was the sole breadwinner. In the next 15, Ravi continued as the principal earner but Reema, running a boutique, began contributing an increasing share. For the last 5 years, Ravi is retired and has no income except his pension and rent from a flat, while Reema’s boutique is doing booming business.

Now Ravi only buys his own clothes, pays for petrol and car expenses, and settles outside payments like club bills and insurance premiums. Everything else, all expenses on food, servants’ salaries and sundry purchases, are met by Reema.

Initially they had gone along with the traditional approach of "our money". But gradually the concept of "my money" as different from "your money" has crept in. Reema keeps a separate account and is even getting secretive about its contents.

  Yet somewhere deep in the irrational layers of her psyche, she still thinks of the man as the prime breadwinner, the obvious one to pick up the tab. Indeed at times she guiltily slips money to Ravi under the restaurant table so that he can pretend he’s paying.

And the disparity in their styles of life manifests itself in trivial ways. For example, Ravi is quite happy with an old suit, she forcing a replacement through gifting him an expensive one on his birthday; she wanting to go to Mauraya Sheraton for their anniversary dinner, he advocating a cheaper meal at their club. Reema often tries to play down such differences, but to her money has become a luminous symbol of functionality and power. All this leaves Ravi a bit confused and unsure of himself — not a promising scenario for marital harmony.

Between marriage partners, money is always a partner, too. And money issues are relatively harder to resolve, as couples often fail to explore their money beliefs.

The word "money" comes from the Latin word moneta. The first Roman coins were struck at the temple of the goddess Juno Moneta, who was worshipped for her wise counsel and her ability to see the future — somewhat akin to our goddess Lakshmi.

Yet many people lose their judgement and discrimination when it comes to matters of money. Each one of us seems to be endowed with a money complex — an intertwined group of psychical "weak spots" that, in various circumstances and in response to various emotional triggers, erupt into seemingly irrational behaviour. And this complex is formed, layer by layer, from infancy through adulthood.

Our money attitudes are not isolated psychic phenomenon but an integral part of who we are. Someone who is withholding money may also be withholding affection. Another one who is perennially anxious about financial status may be lacking in self-esteem. Someone who is ever impoverishing himself financially may be harbouring self-destructive behaviour.

Commonly, couples happen to be polarised over money matters; they harbour opposing money beliefs. If one is a spender, the other is a hoarder. If one is a worrier about money, the other overlooks financial problems. A husband not believing in spending much on gifts is usually mated to a woman who believes in giving lavish gifts as tokens of love.

In marriage, couples engage in this balancing dance of opposites. Where at the start, both happen to be spenders, one eventually assumes the role of super-spender, the other that of a defender. A spender when not spending feels deprived. A hoarder when not spending feels virtuous. Evidently few marriages can survive two super-spenders; sooner than later couples start operating a system of checks and balances. Similarly if both happen to be hoarders, one blossoms into a freer spender while the other hardens in the worrier role; their living could turn pretty nasty if both stayed super-misers.

Ironically, the longer couples are married, the more they lock into polarised roles. And the game of confrontation goes on; each side sticking to its own beliefs on money matters.

Even otherwise, there are male-female differences in approaches to money that haunt many marital relations.

For example, in evolutionary terms, men evolved as hunters, women as gatherers. Men often display the hunter’s approach: they go out, buy a pair of shoes, wear it our. When it is no longer usable, they go out and get another pair. Women, in contrast, gather. Many times they buy things, not for immediate use but to store these fur future occasions.

Despite advances in gender equality and the rising number of women with independent incomes, men are still bred to believe they are better at dealing with money. Women are mostly raised to believe they won’t be good at it, but with luck, they may get some man who will take care of the details of money and investing.

Another important difference between men and women concerns their approach to merging their money, on which they hope to retain primary decision-making power. Women want at least some money separate. This they want as an expression of their autonomy.

A common strategy employed by double income couples is to merge a portion of their income for joint expenses — the ratio of contribution whether 50-50 or anything else depending entirely on what they earn. The balance of income is kept separate where your partner doesn’t have much say how you spend your money. This can avert quite a few money conflicts.

Possibly the best way to manage money issues in marriage is to put yourself in your partner’s place.