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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 14, 2010

Talking about finances can be romantic, too


By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON The recession has unearthed another economic truism: Having a sound financial marriage is as romantic as roses and chocolate.

Money definitely matters for contemporary American marriages, according to findings in an annual survey on "The State of Our Unions" by the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project and the Center for Marriage and Families at the New York-based Institute for American Values.

Although studies find that emotional intimacy, sexual satisfaction and individual happiness rank at the top of marital aspirations, the Great Recession that began in 2007 exposed an economic factor, writes W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project.

Wilcox says that the economic downturn reminds us that marriage is more than an emotional relationship. It's also an economic partnership and social safety net.

"Of course, we would not want to advocate loveless unions for financial gain," writes Alex Roberts of the Institute for American Values in his essay "Marriage & the Great Recession." "But a greater societal appreciation of marriage's financial benefits could be helpful, especially among poor and working-class couples who are drifting farther and farther away from the institution of marriage."

This year, Valentine's Day spending is expected to reach $14.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Instead of spending all those billions on flowers or candy, what if some financial sense (not cents) could be incorporated into the holiday?

We need to start a new tradition for Valentine's Day, one that includes a focus on personal finances rather than consumerism to demonstrate our love.

Take your sweetheart to see a financial planner or credit counselor before that romantic dinner. You can find a nonprofit credit-counseling agency by going to www.debtadvice.org. Find a planner by going to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (www.cfp.net), National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (www.napfa.org) or the Financial Planning Association (www.fpanet.org).

Engaged couples could spend a little time between sips of wine talking about how they might manage their money after they wed.

Dating folks could come up with a "How do I love thee?" list that counts the ways they plan to be a better mates when it comes to money if, or when, they marry.

I know what many of you are thinking this woman has lost her mind. Won't people end up fighting following a meeting with a financial planner?

Talk about money on Valentine's Day? How unromantic.

Well, what I'm suggesting is a lot more romantic then ending up in a relationship or marriage in which the financial fights overshadow the romance.

Couples who report that they disagree over finances at least once a week are 30 percent more likely to divorce than couples who disagree about finances a few times per month, according to research by Jeffrey Dew, a professor of family studies at Utah State University.

People may say their divorce was the result of fights over money, but the truth is, it's rarely about the money either the lack or abundance of it. More likely, the romance obscured the emotional baggage at first.

Interestingly, the marriage report found that divorce dipped a little during the first year of the recession.

"Only time will tell if the cumulative economic consequences of this recession redound to the benefit of marriage or to the detriment of marriage, especially among less-advantaged Americans," Wilcox writes. "But what is not in doubt is that the Great Recession has once again brought into clear relief the enduring truth that marriage and money, the nest and the nest egg, go hand in hand."

Roberts hopes the latter view gains some currency because, as he writes, "once the Great Recession lifts, more couples especially lower-income couples who are in the greatest danger of missing out on marriage's economic benefits can take full advantage of the emotional and material benefits associated with marriage."