Happy Valentine's Day to all those couples with wedding bells in their future.
I have bad news: Your relationship may be doomed.
A harsh statement, and - indeed - an overstatement. But with the approach of Feb. 14, the No. 1 date for marriage proposals, it's appropriate to grab your attention with an important message: Be certain you're a "money match." Couples that are not financially compatible are destined for a rough matrimonial ride. Possibly, a complete wipeout.
Most Americans already know that approximately half of U.S. marriages end in divorce, creating all sorts of personal and societal problems. But do they realize that the leading source of marital discord is conflict over finances - not sex, not kids, not in-laws, not toilet seats?
A 2008 study by researchers at three universities found that couples don't necessarily fight most about money, but those fights tend to be the most intense and are most-often left unresolved.
Yet when it comes to relationships, the notion of financial compatibility is foreign to most Americans. Seriously discussing money is a cultural taboo. Couples will discuss intimate sexual details with a counselor, but "money is the last thing that people want to talk about in therapy. It's just the way we're brought up," notes Lee Slater, a New York-based certified financial planner and past president of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners.
So we hook up with someone with whom we're emotionally and sexually compatible. But when it comes to figuring out how we'll financially support a marriage, how we'll spend and save, when we'll retire, there's a big silence.
We figure love will conquer all.
Why sabotage the relationship by reviewing each other's credit reports, loans and assets?
"When the pixie dust is on, you tend to downplay the role of money," explains Kevin Roth, a marriage and family therapist based in Philadelphia, whose expertise includes couples communication. "Couples can say, 'When we get married, it won't matter.' But after a year it will surface. Or it will surface right away."
That's why it's vital for couples to start talking about money before they start talking about engagement.
Here are some early warning signs:
Beyond arguing about the little things, such as who pays for a date or how much to spend on gifts, it's hard to imagine a couple lasting as spouses if they can't agree on the cost of their wedding or can't work out a general, monthly household budget.
Trouble also may be looming if the partners won't fully disclose their financial situation.
Finally, it is important that their money personalities mesh. A spender and a saver must learn compromise for their marriage to survive. Two spenders face gloomier prospects.
Ensuring you're a money match before marriage is a mark of being mature enough for marriage. It can go a long way to assuring "Till death do us part" won't be become, "Till debt do us part."
So, this Valentine's Day, cupid-pierced couples, amid the gift-exchanging and romancing, should whisper these six words: "Let's talk soon about money, darling."
Contact Sion, a research associate at the American Institute for Economic Research, at AIER, 250 Division St., Great Barrington, MA 01230.