This past week I met with a newlywed couple to give them a crash course on personal finance. Like so many young people, they already had a base understanding of money, but wanted to make sure they were doing the right things as they started their life together. As we sat down in our conference room, I jokingly told them to mark this day on their calendar because it would be officially their first marriage counseling session as nuptials.
While I did this to just break the ice, I also meant it. According to a recent study from TD Ameritrade relationships that experience money fights early on are significantly more likely to end in divorce. So, if you remove this potential obstacle your chances of staying together greatly increases.
But why is this? Is a lack of money really the cause of divorce? If so, are wealthy couples less likely to divorce? The answer to both questions I believe is no. So why do money issues lead to divorce? The answer I believe can be found in the same TDA study which found 41% of divorced Gen Xers and 29% of baby boomers say their marriage ended because of disagreements about money. The key word being disagreements. The study didn’t find a lack of money was the cause, or that those with more money were less likely to get divorced. The study found money disagreements were the cause.
I believe the reason this word is so significant is because unlike what is commonly believed, understanding finances less about understanding math, but more about understanding psychology. Generally, when people fight about money, what they are really doing is having a philosophical discussion about values and priorities. At its core, money is simply a tool used to accomplish other things, when people disagree about the way it should be used, conflict naturally arises.
For some, money is a source of security, knowing they have resources available to them in an emergency puts their mind at ease. For those people, seeing a spouse take away from that safety net for things they perceive as less important (like a new pair of shoes, or a fishing rod) can be a source of great frustration. Likewise, those who view money as something that should be used to bring enjoyment may view a spouse wishing to hold on to it as trying to rob them of joy. Naturally, you can see how these different viewpoints can lead to conflict.
One of the great irony’s of how God created us is we are built to be attracted to people with opposite personalities. Of the couples I have counseled, one is almost always a homebody that likes solitude and silence while the other is the life of the party. Regardless of the outside temperature, one inevitably brings a jacket to the meeting while the other is wearing shorts. And yes, one is likely a spender, the other a saver.
So, with that being the case, how do any marriages last? The key, in my opinion, is not eliminating these differences, but instead acknowledging them and accounting for them. The way in which you do that is through honest communication and cooperation. Whether you have been married a few months like the couple I worked with, or been married a few decades, working together on your finances is a key to a blissful marriage. Spenders must be willing to respect the need of the saver to feel prepared and safe by putting money aside for the future, and savers must acknowledge all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and allow a certain amount of splurging to occur.
Will this guarantee a successful marriage? Of course not, money is only one of dozens of factors that lead to divorce, but taking steps to knock out the biggest one can only help. If you or someone you know is interested in attending a presentation I give on personal finance and how to avoid these money fights, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am able to meet with couples or larger groups at no charge.