Foundations for Strong Families 201. Fostering Collaboration to Resolve Couples Financial Problems


Forgiveness is an important concept for couples who have financial problems. Couples need to talk over past mistakes, come to a level of forgiveness, and focus on going through every bill and financial statement to develop a viable financial strategy. This process takes time, trust, and commitment in relationships to move forward. The advice of marriage and relationship skills and financial educators working together can help couples to set realistic goals and work through problems.

Financial and relationship skills educators are often in the position of helping couples to address past mistakes. Some of these mistakes may have been individual mistakes and some may have occurred with other partners. Either way, the financial aspects are often linked with emotional issues. A few key preventive steps may save a great deal of trauma later. The financial checklist that is often part of premarital preparation is also a key part of financial literacy for couples. It highlights that avoiding the day-to-day issues of financial health can lead to day-to-day problems. Figure 6 provides some tips from practitioners working with couples to help their financial planning and solving financial problems.

Another common theme from both fields is that there is no one solution that fits every couple, and part of creating a healthy relationship and healthy finances is that couples need to work through their own situation together. Building the communication and conflict resolution skills to be able to do this is hard work. Again, both financial and marriage skills educators agree that success comes from how problems are handled, as all couples face emotional and financial decisions and complexities.

Perhaps the most common theme for financial and relationship skills educators is finding an early point of entry into a couple’s life. Help-seeking steps are often taken when problems have become large and overwhelming, yet resolution may be easier the earlier that the problems are detected. In looking for ways to change the default options to promote financial and family stability, it could be that premarital counseling is a natural point of entry. Other potential entry points where materials could be distributed, practitioners could refer to other programs, or staff could be cross-trained include:

  • credit counseling specialists,
  • bank loan officers,
  • local pastors,
  • wedding planners,
  • pediatricians at well-baby visits,
  • new parents’ goodie bags,
  • IDA participants, and
  • marriage education participants.

Figure 6

Tips from the Field: Helping Couples to Plan Finances and Resolve Financial Issues

  • Advise couples against “backward budgeting”—rather than spending and budgeting after the fact, consciously choose their lifestyle first and budget accordingly rather than the other way around.
  • Think about whole family life—how do other family members or friends factor in to couples’ financial decision-making?
  • Provide examples and questions that provide food for thought: is excessive spending or debt by one or both partners the sign of more deeply rooted issues? Be careful about commitments made in life, if you are not ready to make it a top priority, do not commit yourself to it.
  • Draw analogies: successful financial planning for couples is similar to successful weight loss—setting a goal and developing a plan to curb eating and increasing exercise. Need the support of both partners.
  • Encourage couples to always ask the question before any major financial decision, “Are my spouse (or partner) and I in complete agreement and unity over this decision?”
  • Have couples identify their financial needs vs. financial wants and practice negotiating the joint allocation of resources. Take this practice a step further by adding in a life event such as job loss—how would couples cut back?
  • For couples considering marriage or who have made the decision to get married: pre-marriage counseling, whether secular or non-secular, helps identify hidden money issues.

SOURCES: Personal Communication with staff at the Shriver National Center for Poverty Law and A.G. Edwards and Sons. The ABCs of Money Management by A.G. Edwards and Sons.

In addition, marriage and relationship skills education providers who are helping noncustodial parents improve communication with their partners can also help them develop financial strategies by working with the local child support agency to help develop realistic payment plans to address accumulated arrears, make immediate referrals to reputable credit counselors, and make referrals to employment and job training programs. Several community-based marriage education programs serving couples have forged strong links with financial literacy and home ownership programs to help couples continue to address immediate financial issues, plan for the future, and develop assets. At the same time, IDA programs are encouraged to build linkages with local marriage education and family strengthening programs to address the sometimes thorny conversations about money and credit.

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