Written By: Gilbert Goh
In a modern society like Singapore, the focus on materialism, elitism, and financial rewards are major factors that cause many families to break up. Financial issues remain the top cause of our sky high divorces here.
Many of our dual income families are burdened with the decision on how they can better utilize the second income. Even though there are now two incomes for the household to tap on, financial issues, if not properly addressed, can wreck a family apart. Most husbands will want to pay for the big ticket items to prove that they are the main provider for the family and gladly letting their income earning wives pay for the smaller ticket items for the household. However, the recent economic crisis has thrown this idealistic family financial planning equation out of the window. More men than women are jobless now, leading to adverse consequences on the home front.
Dual-Income Family Facing Challenges
In such a situation, working wives have stepped up to the plate and are taking on the role of the main income earner. Their husbands, who are temporarily jobless, often will experience an ego-deflating period as the shoe is on the other foot now. And until the husband finds a job, they family will often go into a cost-cutting mode and cut down unnecessary costs such as a maid. For the unemployed husband, this may mean being relegated to take care of their young children.
Men often associate their social status with their work. When a man loses his job, he will feel that he has lost the respect and recognition from his family members. Most men simply want to be respected by their wives just as women want emotional support for a total familial fulfillment. During a recession, this is often the reason that marriages end in divorce simply because the role reversal may be too much for the man to bear. Personally, I can relate to this situation as I was unemployed for 18 months during the 2002 SARS epidemic.
Here are some helpful tips and ideas for families whose main primary income earner has recently been retrenched:
1. Discuss how you will have to readjust the expenditure for the household expenses. You don’t want to have misunderstanding when it comes to regulating the expenses during family outing. Luxury items such as holidays and concert shows may have to be shelved until the financial situation improves. Also, take this opportunity to spend more time with your children instead of giving them toys and gadgets. You won’t regret this.
2. If you need your wife to help pay for more of the family bills, discuss this clearly with her and as early as possible. This is another potential relationship killer as many couples often leave such sensitive issues unaddressed, which leading to adverse consequences later on.
3. Assure your wife that you are going to be proactive in job search. However, as women need more emotional security, you will need to constantly reassure her that you are doing your best in the job hunt. This can be a trying period with the main income earner being retrenched. Yet, take this opportunity to build on the relationship. A crisis often can enable a couple to get closer together if it is handled properly.
Sadly, many couples have failed to address their financial differences during the initial marital years and this has cause an irreparable rift in their relationship. Many couples I know have allowed their money issues to create voids in their marriages. All it takes is one financial misstep and the relationship will go into a tailspin. This is more so if one party is more conscious of his spending habits than the other. As the spendthrift partner is used to spending as much as he earns when he was single, the one who is thrifty will find it a struggle to adjust to his big item expenditures.
Over-spending and Consumerism
The high number of credit card debts incurred by our population may be proof that we are spending beyond our means. Nowadays, most newly weds enter into a marriage saddled with huge mortgage, car and even honeymoon loans. Many marry by taking loans from their family members or even credit card companies. Most of us we fail to save enough for our wedding, causing us to start our marriages with a negative account. Unless the couple takes the time to go through their finances together and frequently, there is the chance that any financial dispute can be mishandled.
While not talked about publicly, most Asian men resent their wives earning much more than them. As Asian men are brought up to be the main breadwinner in the family, the recent financial crisis has reversed the role totally when men are increasingly being laid off with the wife being the sole income earner.
Moreover, with many women now earning as much if not more than their husbands, it is wise for the couple to discuss financial issues as often as possible. Just look at the papers, if a son can bring his father to court over a business dispute, there is no reason not to believe that a marriage will not end because of financial differences. To some people, money is everything and a family relationship means nothing if they feel that they are getting the shorter end of the stick, from a financial aspect.
With money playing a critical role in a relationship, it is wise to settle any differences we have during courtship and not after you are married. If you could not resolve any dispute over money while courting, there is every reason to suggest that this issue will drag on even while we enter into marriage.
Many pre-marital counseling sessions, including ours, teaches couples how to plan financially. Unfortunately, we did not take it seriously enough to take action after our marriage and this led to much misunderstanding when a big financial purchase was involved. In fact, finances proved to be an Achilles’ heel in our relationship, which almost ruined our 16-years of marriage.
My Unemployment Story
I am a spendthrift and a risk taker. My wife is the total opposite of me; she is thrifty and very risk averse. I believe that this is a common profile between husbands and wives. Most men take risks when it comes to investment whereas women tend to shy away from risks. Potentially, this difference can destroy any relationship if not resolved early in the marriage.
Our marriage was severely affected when I was unemployed for close to 18 months. During that period, my wife bore most of the household expenses and it tested our marriage severely. The marriage vow is one of the greatest test of a couple’s character especially when it comes to money issue.
Though my wife earns a decent income, having to pay off the household bills on her salary for a prolonged period was trying and damaging. During this stressful period, I had to borrow money from some friends to pay off essential bills. That period proved to be detrimental for our marriage. Thus, I urge families with a jobless member to be even more careful and vigilant about their finances.
Some couples I know have joint and separate saving accounts and I am all for it if the couple has agreed to any fixed conditions. Some would put a regular amount into the joint account and it became their household’s expenditure account for monthly expenses. The balance would then be used as their personal savings or expenditure. In theory, this is a fantastic idea but only if both parties are gainfully employed. With the financial crisis affecting many middle income households, some families may depend on one income, as such, the whole financial arrangement may have to be reviewed.
Thus, try to settle all your financial differences before you say “I do”, as failure to do so may hurt your marriage. If possible, have an annual review of how you want to spend your money together and pay more attention to big ticket items like overseas holiday trips or car purchases. If you have a joint account for general expenses, have a guideline on how it is used. For example, some couples would agree to use the money in a joint account for household utilities and not for personal spending.
It is better to be clear about your finances and how you will allocate the funds. It may save you many sleepless nights when major fights occur as a result of differences in how we spend the money.