Talking about money is the first step to managing it.

By By Katie Allison Granju
April 15, 2002
Britt Erlanson

Many couples have trouble talking about their finances withoutstrife. According to a recent survey by the American Academy ofMatrimonial Lawyers, financial disagreements are among the top fivereasons for divorce. This doesn't surprise CNBC's Personal FinanceEditor Suze Orman, New York Times best-selling author of suchtitles as the newly released Road to Wealth (Riverhead, 2001). Orman says that in herwriting and public speaking, she constantly seeks to illuminate theconcept of "financial intimacy" for partners.

"Couples often know everything else about one another, but haveno idea what kind of 'money person' their husband or wife reallyis," Orman explains. "Optimally, a couple would develop financialintimacy before making a commitment, because fantasizing aboutplaying financial house is very different from actually doing it.But it's rarely too late to work at developing that intimacy."

Orman generally advises couples having difficulty communicatingabout money to see a marriage counselor first, before decidingwhether to see a traditional financial planner. "Money is thephysical manifestation of how we see ourselves," Orman says. "Whena couple gets into counseling about disagreements over money, theyoften discover that isn't why they are fighting at all."

This was exactly what Ray and Betsy Tant of Knoxville,Tennessee, realized when they began seeing a marriage therapistalmost a year ago. "At the first few counseling sessions, all weaddressed was money. I thought our problems were due to herspending habits and the student loans she brought into themarriage," Ray says. "Instead, I found out that both of us wereprojecting our childhood experiences with family finances onto ourown marriage."

Ray and Betsy discovered that although each of them grew up inhomes where there was never quite enough money, Ray's childhood waschaotic and unpredictable, while Betsy's was stable and loving. Rayrealized through counseling that his first reaction to even themildest stress regarding money tends to be anger and depression.Betsy, based on her parents' example, isn't a worrier and assumesthat any money concerns will ultimately work out. After this majorbreakthrough in understanding, Ray and Betsy felt a deeperconnection and saw an immediate improvement in their ability todiscuss finances.

Sorting out the underlying emotional issues with regard tofinances is the first step to ending money stress. It allows acouple to start working on a financial plan, and use their insightto mold a budget that will accommodate current needs and helpachieve the goals they identify together.

Money Talks
Ray and Betsy offer these tips -- gleaned from their ownprocess of counseling and shared financial planning -- oncommunicating with your partner about money.