How well do you know me, Honey?

Isn’t it interesting how the things that attract us to someone when we are young and in love can so often turn into the things we cannot stand, once the stars of new love fade and the light of the day-to-day make us blink?

Can you relate to this couple?

Sithle is the third of four children and the only girl in the family. Even though her father proudly proclaims that she is his princess, she often felt overlooked, growing up, as her brothers had much more freedom and were always out with their father who owned his own business. Her mother was very strict with her and placed a lot of emphasis on self-discipline, being conscientious and modest. She loved the freedom of her studies and intellectual pursuits. She often dreamt about travelling all over the world, attending and speaking at conferences.

Sithle met Mark at University. Mark tried to ask her out for the whole first semester of their second year. She only relented after he threatened to phone her father and ask for her hand in marriage! She knew he was joking, but still it felt good to be the centre of his attention.

Mark comes from a working class background. However, he has been an entrepreneur all his life – ever since he could remember. He was constantly finding ways to buy broken things, fixing it and selling it on or trade it for his next project. He was proud of his success and knew that no matter what, he would always land on his feet. Everything was an adventure and no feat to great. In fact, the greater the challenge, the greater the fun. He also quite liked all things glitz and glamour, fame and fortune…

Fast forward 5 years

Sithle and Mark have had a passionate and colourful relationship. Together they partied as hard as they worked at university, fast gaining the admiration and attention of young and old alike. Everyone was saying they were the dynamite couple to watch – big things were coming their way.

Then one morning Sihle woke up and promptly threw up. Morning sickness. Now what?

Fast forward 5 years – again

The Dynamic Two had become the Explosive Three. Some days, chronic fatigue and resentment seemed like the only things Sithle and Mark have in common. Other than debt, that is. Lots of debt. Sihle tries to make the budget work and think of their collective futures. Mark wants to provide the best for his offspring and pamper his wife and do not want to compromise on quantity and quality. Both wants what is best, so why can they not see eye to eye?

Conversations in separate rooms

The situation couples like Sithle and Mark face is not uncommon – in fact, if left to fester for another decade or so, chances are I, as their financial advisor, would have to talk to them in separate rooms. I have in the past had to do so, in fact! If you do not believe me, ask your marriage advisor, Google – type in the top 10 things couples argue about and see what comes up…

Where did it all go wrong?

It does not take a therapist to see that Sithle and Mark come from different backgrounds and how this has shaped their expectations and the role money plays in their lives. Whereas it is not my job to help them ignite the spark in their relationship again, I can definitely help them find a way forward as far as their finances are concerned. As I often say, it is never too late…

If only we could rewind…

My best advice to new couples is this: invest in some honest and open conversations about money and the fears, beliefs, dreams and expectations you have of this. For those who have been in a relationship for a while, my advice will still remain the same. Do not assume you are on the same page just because you agreed once upon a time – ask. Speak your truth – do not say what you think the other wants to hear. And don’t only talk when trouble strikes. Chances are, if you are not talking about finances, there are quite a few things you are not talking about. Perhaps enlisting the help of a third party is not a bad thing…

So, we’re in a bad space, how do we talk about this now?

It helps to have a clear idea of what life would be like if your current problems no longer existed. Psychologists say that for meaningful change to happen one needs two ingredients: discomfort (otherwise, why change?) and hope (otherwise, why bother?)

Separately, answer the following questions (do so in writing – it shows commitment):

  1. Name three problems that would not occur if we were able to control our expenditure.
  2. Which unmet goals becomes possible if we manage to draw up a working budget and manage to stick to it?
  3. How would this affect the rest of our lives?
  4. Is it worth proceeding?

Now discuss it. It is a fact that many couples only survive this step, because it is illegal to kill each other. Congratulations if you are still breathing. Here’s a fun fact – guess what the most difficult conversation is to have? Go on, Google it if you must! Right about now would be a good time to call me, your wise and calm financial advisor.

The rub lies in answer number 4

And this is why it is a good thing to do this exercise in writing. It is important that you contract with one another, as you would in any other business relationship. You need to state, on paper, that you would work together to build the best business, I mean family that you can, that will meet all the needs and some of the desires of every person equally. It might be a good thing to linger a little longer over this question.

Are you ready for one more?

It is really important that you continue to talk to one another, often. Try to suspend judgement. One way to do this is by keeping conversations based in the here and now and to make tasks as practical as possible. You may want to use the following quiz as a way to establish a base line – to see how in touch the two of you are in terms of the real cost of living. Partner one fills in column A, partner two fills in column B (without peaking!). Together the both of you can verify the actual price.

You may want to look at the list before you answer it and adapt it to suit your needs – there may be things you often disagree on or special needs you have that you may want to add to the list. It is not meant to be exhaustive – more like a slice of life. Should this prove to be a useful conversation starter, why not expand on it and following the same methodology?

THE PRICE IS RIGHT QUIZ

What is the price/cost ofABActual
1 Lt full cream milk
A 7 kg Bag of potatoes
1 kg washing powder
Monthly car insurance premium
Monthly Rates on our home
Medical aid premium
Monthly electricity bill
Monthly clothing allowance for household
Monthly mobile phone charges
Lunch money for past month

If you scored eight out of 10, you are doing well. If you reached seven or six, take note, you are out of touch. If your score is five, are you in Parliament? If you received less than that, take a deep breath and call our office for an urgent appointment!

Communication is key – ask Google

The one thing that Google will tell you, when you ask what couples fight about (spoiler alert: sex, money, kids) is that problems with communication is what underlies all the strife. Whereas NFS won’t be able to make you love one another again, we can listen (first step) and facilitate conversations (second step) and help you figure out solutions (third step) and help you stick to these by talking to you again and trouble-shooting, should that be needed (fourth to sixtieth steps!). We promise, we don’t bite.

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