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Money: Marriage Maker Or Breaker

Disagreements over money are the leading cause of divorce.

So, money is one of the main things couples should agree on before walking down the aisle, according to author, syndicated radio host, and financial planner Dave Ramsey.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler the others are kids, religion and in-laws.

Why is money such a hot topic?

Ramsey, author of "The Total Money Makeover," says money brings out a ton of emotions, especially in the context of marriage, because we're forced to share our goals, priorities, dreams, and fears. And this "exposure" is reflected through the topic of money.

So, says Ramsey, when communication about money breaks down, it's not really about the money, since money reflects your values. It's the shared values that break down when your money talks break down.

Ramsey believes it's critical to have counseling before marriage, so both prospective partners know where they stand on the big issues. Getting married for love doesn't make these big issues go away, and if you don't discuss them, you are setting yourself up for failure.

He adds, even if you have plenty of money, it's important to talk about how to handle it. It's not just financially strapped couples who have issues with money.

Ramsey says there are five areas couples need to consider when it comes to money.

Opposites attract
It's human nature to be attracted to people different from us. Usually, a spender is attracted to a saver and vice versa. But that's good, because the saver makes sure the spender has money at retirement and the spender makes sure the saver has some fun along the way. There's a balance here, so overall, it can work when opposites attract.

But what you have to do is find the middle, the values at work. And very few couples actually sit down and do that. Ramsey suspects it's because Americans have become incredibly "selfish," viewing it as, "Well, I earned this money. This is my money." And we all have little kids inside of us. So, what you need to do is take away the pronoun "I" and start thinking "we."

Ramsey says splitting money, as in "his/hers," doesn't work for marriage. To have all sorts of different accounts and not talk about money is, he says, "fooling yourselves. How can you have a relationship based on trust and honesty when you can't talk about money and how you're spending? And how can you create a retirement plan without talking about money?"

Ramsey continues, "Money can become a power issue, so you have to discuss how you are using it together."

Together is better
This is very important, Ramsey stresses. Take away the negative thoughts regarding money. And realize that two heads are better than one, even if you are opposites when it comes to money. Working together on your finances will help you share common goals and dreams. It will improve communication and make a struggling marriage stronger and a good marriage great. If you don't work together, you'll never get anywhere. If you can't sit down and discuss money, then you have larger issues than just finances.

Ramsey says, if you think you need a professional to have the money discussion, then you need a marriage counselor, not a finance counselor because money isn't the real issue. Money is just a symptom of something larger.

The word "budget" can sound "dirty," Ramsey notes. But really, a budget is just a plan of how you're spending your money. Budgets make people think they can't ever have fun again or order pizza one night. It's not at all that way. You have control over money with a spending plan. Having a budget is telling your money what to do instead of wondering where it went. When you agree on a budget, you both know the plan to reach your goals. When you have a common plan, it takes away the things to fight about.

Ramsey observes that it's easier to wander along, but then you might retire without dignity; you will have debt. One out of three spouses hides debt from his or her partner. So, he urges, take away the guilt and shame. Sit down and talk.

Lose the battle to win the war
Sometimes, you have to let your spouse win small battles so you both stay on track and reach your big financial goals, Ramsey comments.

So, what's the war? The war is to have a quality marriage, one with dignity, with you still liking your spouse 30 years down the road. So, if you're the control freak in the couple or if you're the money nerd, maybe you need to give up counting every penny, so you both can feel that each has an equal vote on money.

With intensity, stick to the plan
This means sticking together and sticking to the plan. When your debt is gone and you have money in the bank, the only thing left is to enjoy it together. And sticking with a plan is really about trust, respect, and relationship integrity. If you ignore the plan or the budget, what you're telling your spouse is that you don't respect your mutual goals.