Money, Marriage and Divorce

“Research shows that money is the #1 reason couples cite when filing for divorce in America.”[i]  This holds true even for those who have plenty of money and material assets. That implies that money may not be the real reason but rather the easiest thing to blame when it comes to filing for divorce.

Allowing money to become the scapegoat for any tense or difficult issues in a marriage glosses over the real reason for costly divorces (emotionally and monetarily) in this country.  Many times, it comes down to a communication issue; either the lack of communication, or the misunderstandings that commonly are experienced when two people are working on coming together in unity.  Respect and concern for the other partner is required of both spouses for proper communication to take place. But for those of us happily married, we know how much it’s all worth.

A good point to treasure is this, “There is no limit to the good that can be accomplished, if you don’t care about who gets the credit.”  This attitude will go a long way in preventing money from becoming an easy target for you and your spouse to fight over or to cite as the cause of a divorce.

The second reason money is the #1 reason cited for divorce in America is that money is spiritual.  This means that what you do with money is personal.  A dog or a cat could care less if you criticized them for the cost of their food or groomer. Nevertheless, criticizing your spouse for how they spend money is like hitting them in the gut.  Animals don’t value money or what it can accomplish, only humans have the spiritual makeup to experience the value of money.  And so, talking about how your spouse spends, saves or deals with money is very personal and can hurt deeply.

Here’s the funny thing:  The reason money problems are cited for divorce isn’t about what is purchased, what or where money is saved, or if there is too much or too little.  No, those are not the reasons money is cited for divorce.  Instead it is about how one spouse, or both, has made the other one feel about money, its use or the ability to earn money that is the big one.  Nobody wants to feel like they’ve been treated condescendingly, or feel that they’re ridiculed or pitied.  And yet, many times, discussions about money in a marriage contain not one but all three of these emotional put downs.

Thirdly, in most marriages, one spouse earns more than the other.  This can give rise to the feeling that the lower income earning spouse is spending the higher earning spouses’ money.  The ides of “his money/her money” breeds this horrible peculiarity.  The values that each spouse brings into a marriage will be critical in overcoming this American impression that there is such a thing as “his or her money”.  Marriage is a union of two people for the purpose of becoming one.  Therefore, establishing and committing to common values, prior to marriage, will deter the temptation for one spouse to feel belittled, unappreciated or even parental of the other spouse, instead of feeling loved and equal. Equal…

…Equality doesn’t mean you share everything equally.  Equality means that you understand, appreciate and honor the different roles each spouse plays to create a healthy marriage.  This includes how money is earned, saved and spent.  These values can’t be taken for granted but must be acknowledged with respect and appreciation. And then the emotions that come from this acknowledgment and appreciation must be expressed on a regular and spontaneous basis to your spouse in order for a marriage to grow.

A fourth reason money is cited for so many divorces in America is due to immaturity.  When one or both spouses resort to nagging, dishonesty or manipulation in order to avoid responsibility, things can become despairing.  If you want to really solve the issue, don’t revert to such childlike behaviors.  Nobody works well under the burden of guilt… especially guilt.  Nagging, dishonesty and manipulation place a burden of guilt on your spouse and do nothing to resolve your money issues.  Furthermore, reverting to such childish tactics means: You own the problem and need to grow up if you are ever to experience sustainable wealth and happiness.

Finally, realize that your spouse, or future spouse, has already been programmed about money long before you met them.  Research documents that such programming occurs very early in childhood.  Identifying what that program looks like prior to marriage is best. But working together to identify this programming, in a non-judgmental way, can help committed couples understand and overcome their money issues together after marriage as well.  We all can change, but trying to change your spouse is not the way to approach money issues.  You can no more change your spouse than you can make them grow taller. How you and your spouse work through your pre-programming about money can be the determining factor of whether you are happily married, unhappily married or divorced.

What it all comes down to is this:  Don’t assume anything.  Talk, share, be honest, be kind and loving.  Always reminding yourself that together you and your spouse can accomplish more, create more, bless more and do more than you can ever do alone.  So, whatever it takes, it will be worth it all and then some.

Suggested Resources: How to Manage the Money in Your Marriage