Published on September 9, 2007
I recently read somewhere that couples argue more about money than about sex, and most divorces are caused by money matters rather than infidelity.
Personally I found it hard to credit at first, but then, having thought about it, and judging by what's going on around us, it is highly believable.
For many, marriage or partnership brings to light special financial hopes, dreams and fears. Most of us enter a marriage on fairly equal footing. However, there are others entering into a partnership that clearly face financial inequality. In many cases couples draw up a formal pre-nuptial or marriage contract outlining their wishes.
To be honest, I believe it is much easier to enter into a formal relationship when both parties can financially contribute equally since money is the number one culprit in marital misunderstandings. Romance can sometime overpower the practicality of money matters. Nevertheless, it is vital to talk frankly about financial matters before embarking on matrimony.
According to research, most men make decisions on investment, retirement plans and buying insurance, and women tend to concentrate on paying bills, budgeting, and running the day-to-day spending. This seems to be the case among most of the people I know.
When a couple first get together, both parties usually work and bring in an income individually. When children come into the picture, naturally one of you will want to become a stay-at-home spouse if you have the luxury to do so financially. In my opinion, the contribution of the stay-at-home spouse towards the marriage is equal to that of the one earning an income. The fact that the work of the stay-at-home spouse doesn't derive equal amounts of recognition and reward from the outside world doesn't mean she or he is not working as hard.
Traditionally men take on the responsibility as the main breadwinner in the family. This is still very much the case even in the 21st century. I am a great fan of the American TV show "Desperate Housewives". Though the stories are highly exaggerated and comical, the series presents us with classic examples of suburban families. On the surface, a stereotypically perfect domestic situation is not unlike the one represented by Bree Van De Kamp's family - a husband who brings in a comfortable income, a wife who is an outstanding cook and housekeeper, plus two children (preferably a boy and a girl). Lynette Scavo's family presents another typical modern-day scenario: she has a more promising career path, and is the main breadwinner. Sometime this set-up can work out well in real life.
However, sadly not all women are as happy as Scavo. I have witnessed at least two failed marriages because the wives were the main financial contributors to the family. When women reach a certain age and have children, on the whole they would much prefer to be with the kids than having to climb the career ladder or compete for higher pay. One of my friend's marriages failed after 18 years when she finally decided it was time for her to switch roles with her husband. She asked her house husband to find a job. When he refused, that was the end of a union that was purely based on love, not money.
Sometimes marriages that are based on the attraction of wealth can work, but most don't. Look at Donald Trump and his previous two wives. Or Gabrielle Solis (back to "Desperate Housewives" again), the ex-model with everything she has ever wanted - a rich husband, a big house - everything, that is, but a good marriage! Mind you, Anna Nicole Smith may turn in her grave and claim otherwise!
G ender roles are a great political no-no nowadays. Are you the Daddy or the Mummy? Are you the man or the woman? Do you make the money or do you spend it?
As a gay man, I find myself resisting traditional relationship roles because of their association with gender. I hate it when people ask me if I am the man or the woman or, as they are so fond of saying in Thailand, a gay king or a gay queen?
First of all, that is none of your business. Are you good in bed?
But that isn't the point. I find people aren't really interested in my sex life. What they really want to know is, who wears the pants in the family? And the answer to that, unless my boyfriend has started doing something that I don't know about, is both of us.
But that still doesn't answer the question, not even for heterosexual couples. Nowadays, with both men and women in the workforce, what roles are taken in the relationship? In social anthropological terms, how is the labour divided between partners? The logical extension of that, of course, is how is the money divided?
Does one person go out and make the money and then the other spend it? Traditionally, the husband would work and the wife would stay at home. The resulting financial inequality led to the denigration of the woman's role in the relationship. After all, money may not make the world go round but it powers national economies, and those who control the purse strings usually control the world and the household.
The sad truth is, because men were the ones who went out and worked, they were considered more powerful and therefore superior to women. Hence the expression about the spouse who wore the traditionally male garment being the spouse in control.
But that needn't be the case. In fact, it isn't. Making money is important - I would never argue otherwise - but it is no more important than keeping things running.
Nowadays, when both spouses often work, how many couples actually make roughly the same salary. And if they do, do they divide it exactly down the middle? Is it really necessary to count?
True partners support each other emotionally and a financial solution to the way the relationship works has to take this into account. And it doesn't matter how it is worked out as long as the couple in question is happy about it. That, to me, is an emotional issue. Not a financial one.
Now that takes more work than anything else.
I saw on Discovery Home and Health recently that more than 90 per cent of divorces are due to financial problems. In my opinion, however, if they worked out the emotional value one had for the other, that could get them started on financial issues.
My boyfriend and I work as a team but I make more money than he does. In my other career as a businessman, my salary beats his. And so he supports me in my career, and I support him in his. I am happy to be the main source of income for the family. But that doesn't mean I am the more powerful partner in the relationship. My boyfriend helps me save money or spend it as necessary. You see, the money I make isn't mine. It's ours.
The boundary between what belongs to whom is blurred. The contribution my boyfriend makes is more than financial. It is emotional. Because I love him, I would give my boyfriend the world if I could. To loosely quote Shakespeare, my heart would give more but my hand lacks the means.
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