Money, stress and your marriage
Tuesday, 20 April 2021
It's a given that most couples have disagreements.
But at least one study shows that when disagreements about money come more frequently than arguments about other things, the couple is more likely to split. The 2012 National Survey of Families and Households concluded that money arguments are more symbolic of power and equality in the relationship. Even if money fights aren't as frequent, they are more often more intense and emotionally charged, says Kristy Archuleta, a licensed marriage and family counselor, editor of Journal of Financial Therapy, and associate professor at the Institute of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University.
"We all have a relationship to money," says Archuleta. "Those relationships—or the relationship to money and our feelings about money—are often unconscious. We're not really maybe aware of how we even feel about money. When someone triggers some sort of reaction to money from us, we react."
But not every fight will result in a trip to the divorce attorney; some money issues are relevant and some are not.
“It differs for each couple," says Sonya Britt, a certified financial planner, program director of Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University, and one of the study's authors. "Arguments are generally tied to differences in personal values. It is unlikely that a couple would have the exact same values about every issue, so they are bound to have disagreements about how to spend their money. This is not a problem as long as the couple can come to a resolution about how to allocate their resources toward different priorities."
Money behaviors and beliefs are often deep-rooted and difficult to change, and fighting about money rarely addresses basic underlying issues. “Everyone has a different level of being able to process emotions and feelings about money," Archuleta says.
Is there money trouble in your relationship?
Britt says one of the most telling signs that there is money trouble in a relationship is the one that you can't see—when couples avoid the topic altogether. “This may indicate disagreement about how money is being used, or perhaps hiding of money from one or both partners. It could also indicate that one partner is exclusively in charge of money management decisions in the household, which could be dangerous for the uninformed partner," she said.
“When there are secrets, there are minor secrets and there are major secrets," Archuleta says. "Sometimes, when you practice minor secret-keeping, it builds up to bigger issues. I do think that secret-keeping can be a red flag."
The issue might extend from money to communication style as well, Archuleta says. “If a couple doesn't fight about anything, well, then they're probably not talking about what they need to be talking about, either. No couple is going to see eye-to-eye on absolutely everything."
Another sign: Having the same money fight over and over again. “Unresolved issues are sure to cause long-term problems, which could eventually lead to the dissolution of the relationship," Britt says.
Lili Vasileff is an independent financial planner and founder of Divorce and Money Matters. In a recent Time article, she outlined other financial warning signs that your spouse may be heading toward a divorce, which include:
- Arguments about money
- Hidden money, and no explanation for why funds are missing
- Ceased or reduced deposits to joint accounts, savings, and retirement accounts
- Large cash withdrawals
- Redirecting credit card statements and other mail to the office
How to address money issues
As with any malady, prevention is preferable to a cure. Britt says her research showed that arguments about money at the beginning of the relationship are highly predictive of low relationship satisfaction later, so financial-focused premarital counseling is key. “Couples need to decide how they are going to handle individual debt the partners bring into the relationship, how household expenditures will be paid, and whether each partner gets their own special money that they don't have to account for in the household budget," Britt says.
If you're already deep into a relationship and sense that money issues are a major challenge to your survival, Archuleta says to find a therapist who can talk about money, or a financial planner skilled in relationship dynamics. Counseling can help you learn techniques so that when the inevitable disagreement does come up, you'll have the necessary skills to handle it.
The first step is to define the long-term visions and dreams for the relationship, Archuleta says. “For some couples, it might be rebuilding trust around money, maybe it's having communicating more effectively. Maybe it's being able to have better conflict skills."
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