Sunél's Blog | Rands, cents and romance

Sunél Veldtman, | 16 February 2024

This week of love is an opportune time to talk about love and money, more specifically marriage and money. It’s not an easy topic for many, but it is a good, and necessary one. 

Throughout history, marriage has primarily been a financial arrangement. It was an environment in which legitimate offspring could be produced as a source of wealth, and which also secured the financial wellbeing of women. It was within the protection of marriage that women could be financially secure.  

Marriages were frequently arranged between families, often driven by financial, political or social gain. In many cultures, these practices still exist. Women who did not marry remained at risk of falling into poverty. It was only after women were given the vote, that marriage became the bond of two equal citizens and the concept of financial independence took off.  

Over the same time, the idea of romantic love as the sole reason for marriage became prevalent. This has been the dominant narrative, as illustrated by the countless rom-coms we see on our screens. However, for the environment we now live in, this needs to be re-evaluated.  In the early 1900s, when life expectancy was considerably lower, the marriage bond typically lasted two decades.  Now, though, people live longer than ever and this bond must last for three to six decades. Romantic love alone is hardly enough for marriage to survive all this time.

What many forget when falling in love, is that marriage remains a financial arrangement. In most Western countries, marital laws describe how assets and debts must be dealt with at the dissolution of a marriage. These are laws that have been designed to protect both individuals and are one of the main reasons why people should still get married. In most countries, including South Africa, those living together have little legal financial protection at the end of the relationship.

Further, as a relationship evolves through life, so too must the financial arrangements. I agree with Belgian-American psychotherapist, Esther Perel when she says: “In the West today, most people are going to have two or three marriages, two or three committed relationships in their adult life. It’s just that some of us are going to do it with the same person.” Therefore, when our circumstances change - such as when a partner sacrifices some part of their career to care for kids or parents, or one party inherits, or changes careers - we likewise need to renegotiate the original understanding.  

Many people start out well, but over time, conversations about money become sensitive, particularly when it is about the economic contributions in the marriage. It may be changing, as young people may be more open to discussing the financial responsibilities and benefits of a relationship. But I still see too many marital partners who cannot talk about their financial contract. Sometimes, it seems that talking about the allocation of financial resources is treason to the idea of romantic love. But, if we do not pay attention to the financial aspect of marriage, over time, resentment can set in. Eventually, it may kill romantic love and the relationship.

Forget red roses (they’re overpriced anyway). Rather pay respect to your romantic love by talking about the rands and cents.

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Kind regards,