Finding harmony between love and money

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 10:54 PM

Finding a good book about love and money reminds me of what Forrest Gump's mama told him about that box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. It might be trite. It might rescue your relationship.

For this month's Color of Money Book Club, I've selected three works for couples trying to resolve financial conflicts. I'm not recommending you get all three. Read the profiles and select the one that best fits your situation.

I'll start with "First Comes Love, Then Comes Money: A Couple's Guide to Financial Communication" by financial advisers Bethany and Scott Palmer.

This is the book for you if financial infidelity is your relationship issue.

"Financial infidelity is what happens when a person drives her family into debt with her overspending," they write. "It is a lack of financial planning that leaves couples desperate. It is two people maintaining separate accounts because they don't trust each other enough to pool their resources. It is the desire to control another person's life by limiting his access to money. It is what happens anytime a person lies, cheats or deceives his partner about money."

The National Endowment for Financial Education found that 31 percent of people who combined finances have committed some type of financial deception - from hiding purchases to lying about the amount of debt they owed. Of those who committed a financial deception, 58 percent say they hid cash from their partner or spouse.

The Palmers divide their book into three sections. They first get you to determine how you think about money and how the way you think may contribute to conflicts you're having with your partner. Next, they ask couples to be honest about the financial lies that exist in their relationship. Then they offer tools for better communication.

"When two people learn how to understand each other, how to talk about money, and how to work together to build a solid financial future, they can put an end to financial infidelity," the Palmers write.

If your issues go much deeper than even the financial lies, read "ScreamFree Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up and Getting Closer" by Hal Edward Runkel with Jenny Runkel.

Hal Runkel, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is also the author of the best-selling "ScreamFree Parenting," a book that helped me tremendously in dealing with one of my daughters. Runkel pushes you to take a step back and look at how you are contributing to the strife in your relationship. I realized that I was putting some of my own stress onto my daughter.

Here's Runkel's definition of ScreamFree: "learning to relate with others in a calm, cool and connected way, taking hold of your own emotional responses no matter how anyone else chooses to behave." In his latest book, Runkel teaches couples how to stay calm even in the face of common marital conflicts such as screaming matches about money.

If you're interested in a twist on the usual relationship advice books, try "Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes" by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson. Szuchman is an editor at the Wall Street Journal and Anderson is a reporter for the New York Times.

Certain economic principles can "minimize conflict and maximize returns on life's biggest investment - your marriage," Szuchman and Anderson maintain. Take the economic theory of loss aversion, otherwise known as an intense fear of losing.

Ever continue battling with your spouse about money even though you know you were wrong to spend more than you both had agreed to? That's loss aversion. If during the fight you realize this, call a timeout, the authors suggest.

"Spousonomics" and its interesting use of economics could open the door to conversations that lead to a better way to handle your disagreements about sex, household chores and money.

If your marriage is in trouble because you think it's all about the money (it rarely is), at least try one of these books. Wouldn't it be nice to have financial harmony with your honey?

I'll be hosting a live online chat with the authors of all three picks at noon Eastern time on Feb. 24 at Every month, I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the featured book or books, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win one of this month's selections, e-mail with your name and address. Please indicate which book you would like to receive.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, DC 20071. Her e-mail address is Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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