In fact, a study conducted at Rutgers University, in which researchers examined the correlation between marital quality and overall well-being, found that when a woman is happy, she tends to do more for her husband and provide more emotional support. That, in turn, leaves the husband more satisfied with his life.
Did you hear that, guys? If your wife is happy, research shows that she’ll do more to make sure that you are also happy. Seems like a win-win, right? Sure...but what does ‘happy’ really mean? And how do you gauge it?
Every woman has an innate need to feel secure -- and many times, this sense of security leads to feelings of happiness. This desire is derived from our basic human need for safety, security, and stability. Remeber Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
For some women, security may be something as simple as having equal authority in the management of the household finances. Many women take comfort in knowing that the family has a fully-funded emergency fund in the event of an unexpected financial crisis.
I’ll share my big “a-ha” moment regarding our own personal budget and security. We used to have the “His, Hers and Ours” system for handling our money. You know, he has his checking, she has hers, and all the common expenses, like mortgage, insurance, bills and food, all came from the joint account. One day early in our marriage, my husband came home with hundreds of dollars of equipment to brew beer. I thought this was insane! Who needs the big glass containers, tubing and grains? That is ridiculous. However, before I voiced my opinion, I stopped. I said to myself “He didn’t spend MY money on this. And he didn’t spend OUR money on it. And he didn’t take it out of savings. So why should I be upset? He bought hobby items with HIS money and that made him happy.”
And with that, I shut up and we were both happy.
Want to make sure that you are instilling confidence in your spouse to have a marriage that is thriving on all levels? Try these strategies to get both you and your spouse on the path toward living full and happy lives.
Schedule Time to Talk
At least once every month, schedule time with your spouse for a financial ‘tune-up’. In the same way that you take your car to be serviced on a regular basis in order for it to run properly, your marriage (and your money!) requires the same level of maintenance -- in fact, it actually deserves more!
Use these meetings to hear financial concerns from her perspective and reflect on whether you are meeting her needs in the areas of safety, security and stability.
Here’s your tip of the day guys: women want you to listen to them. You don’t have to solve all of her problems, but you do need to lend an empathetic ear. If she is feeling insecure about the emergency fund, she will not be happy. If she feels that the credit card debt is too high, she will not be happy. Listen to her concerns and then work together to find a solution. According to Maslow, it’s hard to move to the Love and Belonging stage if you can’t get past the Safety/Security stage.
Do your part to be open and supportive during these conversations. If you disagree or feel that something is wrong, instead of getting angry, talk through it.
Ask Questions and Listen
In order to fully understand your partner's behaviors around money and identify what truly makes her happy, you will have to ask questions that, honestly, you won’t always want to hear the answers to. But don’t let that stop you -- ask anyway!
For example, many times in a marriage, one person will assume that their significant other is comfortable with how they manage money, only to find out later that they are not. This can often lead to underlying tension, that left to fester, can lead to long-term marital problems.
While you don’t have to agree on everything, it’s important to know where the other person stands on certain issues to avoid any unintentional disagreements.
If you’re unsure of exactly what to ask, try some of these basic questions:
- Do you feel like you can open up to me about your worries -- financial or otherwise?
- Do you feel that I value your opinion?
- What are your financial pet peeves?
- What is your immediate emotional response to money (happiness, frustration, anger)?
- How much do you feel comfortable having in our emergency fund?
- What can we do to pay off our extra debt?
The key thing for you to do here is listen. In fact, listen, ask more questions, and then listen again. Repeat as many times as necessary. Have your spouse share her answers and then ask her to elaborate on why she answered that way. Be careful, guys, that you are not throwing out solutions and trying to "fix" the problem. Women want you to listen and be empathetic. Then you can work on solutions together.
Just a word of caution: you might be surprised with what you hear. Often, we feel that we’re helping someone, but unfortunately we’re not helping them in the way they desire. By asking for clarification you eliminate any confusion and only offer your assistance in the way best received by your spouse.
Share Financial Responsibility
These days it’s not uncommon for one partner to solely manage the household finances. And while this works for many couples, my recommendation is that both parties should be -- at a minimum -- aware of all major financial decisions.
One idea is to set some limits. Maybe you decide that you both have to agree on any expense greater than $100. This would require you to share the purchase information, discuss it, and then make a decision on whether or not the expense is justified. Or maybe you decide that only car expenses like taxes, oil changes, tires, and maintenance come out of the savings account. Or set a 'cooling off' period before making a major purchase. Setting guidelines for spending keeps each of you accountable to each other.
There are lots of great budgeting tools that can help you share responsibility and communicate well. Your bank is likely to have an online budgeting tool that you can both access. There is also You Need a Budget (my new favorite!) and Mint.com.
Creating financial equality is an important lesson for all married couples. And while establishing equal footing in your family's finances does not mean that you both need to manage the day-to-day aspects of your finances, the fact that you are both involved at some level can strengthen your relationship and ensure that you are well-equipped to handle any obstacles that arise.
Don’t be afraid to change things as your lives grow and your finances change. As I mentioned, we started out with the “His, Hers and Ours” checking accounts. We later morphed into one main account and we each got an allowance for general spending. Everyone has a different budgeting style, but you have to communicate about what is working and what isn’t.
When there are open lines of communication in a relationship, it’s easier to calmly discuss money issues as they arise and spend more time focusing on solutions. And although statistics show that money issues are the biggest cause of stress, couples who take the time to communicate about their financial concerns, ask tough questions, listen, and share in the financial responsibilities, exponentially improve their chances to enjoy both a happy spouse and happy life.
Pamela J. Horack, CFP® of Pathfinder Planning LLC provides personal financial planning advice for a simple fee to young adults and working families in North and South Carolina through group classes, one-on-one planning, and ongoing advice.