As the economy continues to bite, ambulance money is often the silent, view destructive partner in relationships as couple struggle to talk about their most serious challenge. And, online it is often the difference in money values that fuels the conflict.
More and more South Africans are getting divorced with the Justice Department’s 2012- 2013 annual report noting a 28% increase in divorce cases.
Family Life Centre psychologist Claudia Abelheim says money puts a huge amount of pressure on a couple’s relationship. “Going from only having to worry about your own financial stability to the stability of your family can be very stressful, especially when there are children involved,” she said.
Yet financial stress is seldom considered by the couple during marriage preparation. “They can also tend to underestimate the importance of planning and budgeting for the future, especially if they are planning on having children,” says Abelheim.
And, its not unusual for couple start married life with debt from the actual wedding.
Shared values are important to actor Thapelo Mokoena who acted as the materialist young Axe Gumede in the HEARTLINES film Nothing for Mahala. The film kicks off a money and values campaign to encourage South Africans to rethink their attitudes to money.
“We’re very transparent with the way we spend money or treat each other around money. My wife knows to the tee what I’m making because I tell before she even asks,” says Mokoena. “We’re very comfortable around our money. We’re both in business and we’re both self-employed. We save money because we learn, we grow … its definitely not an easy lesson.”
Actor and marriage counsellor, Jerry Mofokeng argues that money is not the root problem: “It’s the people. It depends on how people relate with money and that relationship will then determine what sort of power money has in a marriage,” he said.
Mofokeng has been married to his wife Claudine for 33 years and the two have a show on Kaya FM where they discuss issues around the family and marriage.
He notes that money has presented issues in their marriage. “I’ve had a number of bankruptcies in my life and what I’ve learnt is that you should not hide from it, you should come forward with your problems,” he said.
Albeheim shares this belief and her advice to couples is to communicate. “If couples can be completely honest and open about the state of their finances, it goes a long way to alleviate the stress and burden” said Albeheim. She notes that sometimes couples are unable to deal with issues by themselves and can benefit from a counsellor.
Money also plays an enormous role in divorce according to well-known family law attorney, Charles Mendelow.
Mendelow notes that “money has symbolic value for all people and is an enormously important barometer on people’s security levels. Money therefore often goes to the root of relationships as people’s sense of self-worth and security governs attitudes about most things, including the attitudes to their spouses.”
Charles Mendelow Attorneys specialises in family law matters such as divorce and, according to Mendelow, it is seldom the case that money does not play a part in divorce. “Money issues form part of the big five of divorce,” he said.
Mendelow notes that one of the common misconception people have of divorce relate to unrealistic expectations. “Sometimes men get told by their friends that they can get away with paying very little. Housewives divorce their husbands thinking that they have money but through the proceedings all his debt is revealed. Generally family interference creates wrong expectations,” he added.
Like Albeheim, Mendelow suggests that communication is the key. “An essential element of marital communication is the ability to talk around money. Couples should start doing this from an early stage. I suggest that a process of negotiating the anti-nuptial contract involves the parties becoming more conscious and applying their minds to financial issues.
“If couples can sort out their money discussions, they could probably sort out almost every other discussion. How people relate to money is a symptom of deeper aspects of their psyche,” he says.
An important element in terms of money in a marriage is the pre-nuptial contract. “I have seen incompetent attorneys put together anti-nuptial contracts with little understanding of South African family law. People shop around for the cheapest one they can find when pre-nuptial contracts need to be the best quality,” he says.
Hildegarde Brits, a paralegal for the Family Life Centre, says that when writing the contract, both parties should look at what they already own separately. She suggests that people should “look at any exclusion that must be omitted at the disillusion of the marriage which may be policies, pension funds, businesses etc.”.
Mofokeng suggests that couples with issues around money should be disciplined. He says that “people create problems because of the want of money. For example, the family doesn’t budget so they are always over-spending. Or, you discover that your partner is “stealing” your money. They have not been taught discipline.”
He notes that in order to avoid issues around money impacting a marriage, both parties should be willing to analyse their own roles in the issues. “Put the mirror in front of yourself. Ask: what is your contribution and what do you want? People are too proud of what they have and they could lose something eternal in exchange for something short term,’ Mofokeng says.
“Get an expert to help you understand what is wrong financially. Be informed and you will be able to understand your fears and aspirations. Get help and you will be amazed,” he adds.
By Wynona Latham
* This article was first published in The Star Africa Edition on 8 January 2014. It is part of a series produced to support the HEARTLINES Values & Money campaign to encourage South Africans to think about how they earn, spend, save, borrow and give away their money.