How Married at First Sight fails in financial communication
Money at First Sight
Married at First Sight is an American television reality series that has aired since 2014. The premise of the show revolves around three experts and anywhere from three to five couples. The participants undergo extensive testing and evaluation and then are paired with another participant to be married, meeting for the first time at the altar. They then have 8 weeks to decide if they want to stay married or get a divorce.
The experts help guide the participants after the wedding day to explore areas of intimacy and communication but that communication centers around emotion and moving the relationship towards a love, which is only one side of the equation in day-to-day life.
One of the areas not openly discussed or explored at depth with the couples is finances. It is usually briefly touched upon in the manner of when one spouse is making more than the other, but a deeper discussion is usually avoided or not shown. Money, sex, religion, and politics are the ‘4 horseman of the apocalypse’ in relationships. They are the hardest to talk about and reason most relationships including friendships included. In fact, money fights and money problems are one of the leading causes of divorce in North America. According to a study by Jeffrey Drew at Utah State University “Couples who reported disagreeing about finance once a week were over 30 percent more likely to get divorced than couples who reported disagreeing about finances a few times a month.” (Drew, Britt, & Huston, 2012)
This season has introduced us to two couples where finances have played or are currently playing a role in the growth of their relationship, Myrla and Gil and Jose and Rachel.
Myrla enjoys expensive self-care routines such as regular eyelash extensions and botox as well as designer shoes and trips. Gil is more frugal and enjoys experiences and the day to day rather than items, although he might splurge if chocolate chip cookies were involved. They have taken up the conversation in a playful manner with Gil often calling Myrla “bougie”. While they have shared with each other their bank account balances they have managed to put off the conversation for now, only touching on the surface. This could come back to haunt the relationship at the 8-week mark and beyond if they stay together. They have not really explored their long-term goals as a couple aside from the usual buy a house, have kids etc.
The other and probably most talked about couple is Jose and Rachel. Even from the “Matchmaking Special”, these two were polar opposites in the money department. Jose is what would be termed a ‘saver ‘and Rachel is a ‘spender.” They difference between Jose/Rachel and Gil/Myrla is the conversation. From the very beginning Jose has expressed his views on money and the role it plays in the relationship, so much so that it has caused some rifts in the relationship, as Rachel has different views. The problem is the conversation has been one sided. In a relationship one of the most important tools to learn is compromise. Jose does not compromise. He has been doing his thing for so long and feels Rachel should just adopt his philosophy with money. This has led to Rachel feeling that Jose is controlling. This stance has caused their relationship to take a 180 degree turn in recent episodes. One specific incident occurred when the couple had friends over for the 1st time since being married. Jose bought out his whiteboard with all of his payments/savings written out and it included his credit score. He began to question and somewhat belittle his wife’s money habits in front of everyone, which made her uncomfortable. Rather than sit down and ask her ‘What do you need from me? What can I do for you?” It became ‘We are going to do this?”
When working with couples from opposite sides of the money conversation it is important to understand their individual relationship with money, their money scripts, before blending into a couple’s relationship with money. Both will look different. In fact, according to a study by Ameriprise, 73% of individuals have a different money management style than their partner. While Jose is strict with his plan, Rachel also has a plan. Just because her plan is different than his, does not make it right or wrong. Think of it like a math equation, there are two parts that equal a whole other part. Jose’s plan + Rachel’s plan = Jose and Rachel’s plan. Each side has equal weight in this equation and the combined plan will be the strength for both. There will be some give and take. For Rachel, instead of 5 vacations a year (I am randomizing here), it might be 1-2 and for Jose it might go from 0 vacations a year to 1-2. Neither will win individually but as a couple they will succeed.
The key takeaway is to have the conversation. According to an American Express survey in 2010, 91% of couples surveyed find reasons to avoid talking about finances. While in a Country Financial survey from May 2011, 51% of couples discussed how they would manage their money before getting married. Since these couples have just met, they were given zero chance to discuss topics like finances beforehand. In essence they had to trust the experts to have that conversation for them during the vetting process and that topic is usually excluded or way down on list of priorities. In a 2011 Lawyers.com Coupes and Money survey, 91% of respondents agreed that it is important to discuss their partner’s financial history before marriage (Lexis Nexis, 2011)
While the couples are in a legally binding marriage, they also have the option to divorce after 8 weeks. In realty the couples are still strangers after 8 weeks and may not have and the chance to tackle the 4 horsemen in depth yet, which is my worry for Myrla and Gil. My suggestion is to work on an 8-week budget. Budgets typically take a good 3 -6 months of consistently working on them for them to take hold. Even then you are constantly adjusting and tinkering due to upcoming life events or goal changes. Doing a combined budget for the 8-week experiment would be a great insight into how each person thinks about money and what their priorities are. For example, back to Gil and Myrla, she may like to buy expensive shoes and self-care routines but if her budget is dialed in to the point that she has maximized her savings and retirement, meeting her obligation each and every month and has money to spare then great. It would be a different story if she was struggling, in a mountain of debt, and had a bunch of delinquent bills and she was till spending on shoes.
While it makes for interesting television to hear about intimacy and emotional conversation, financial conversation, guided by an expert of its own needs to be an added element. On the surface a couple may have great chemistry and have an instant attraction but its how they respond to the day to day and if they both paddle in the same direction they can end up moving through the current with ease or they can end up like Johnny, way out, far and struggling to paddle back.
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