Regardless of your current relationship status, it’s impossible to ignore this time of year! From those of you that wait until last minute to do something special for your special someone, to those of you that block-out the noise of the holiday all-together, this time of year tends to touch everyone in a different way.
That’s why I think it’s a great opportunity to talk about one of the deepest issues within any relationship – money. Money touches pretty much every relationship in our lives, but none more so than marriage. Now, I know that not everyone reading this article is, or will be, married. But, the information is crucial for preparing you for a future marriage relationship, if that is something that you desire.
So, in the time it will take you to watch a 2-hour romantic comedy tonight, consider that 554 divorces occur during that time frame! With that sobering thought in mind, I believe that one of the most romantic things you can do this year is be proactive and work towards a healthy financial relationship with your significant other! But, I still recommend chocolate, and probably some flowers!
Causes of Stress in Marriage
There is a plethora of surveys from married couples, relationship counselors, and divorce lawyers that have tried to identify the most common causes of divorce. While there are small differences in each of their findings, one of the constant findings toward the top of the list is financial stress and related arguments. And yet, while the American divorce rate has been going down since the 1980s, financial stress has been increasing, highlighting the need to continue our pursuit of financial education and independence!
Here are some numbers regarding marriage and money sourced from a legal office that is based off actual research throughout the world and mostly America, interesting read…
- Those making < $20,000 / year have a 39% divorce rate while those making > $75,000 have a 22% divorce rate
- An annual income of > $50,000 can decrease the risk of divorce by as much as 30% vs. those with an income < $25,000
- Couples that argue about finances at least once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced
- A feeling that one’s spouse spends money foolishly increased the likelihood of divorce by 45%
- The average total cost of divorce in America is $15,000
- Families with children that were not poor before the divorce see their income drop by as much as 50%, which often puts them into or close to poverty
- Couples with no assets at the beginning of a 3-year period are 70% more likely to divorce by the end of that period than couples with $10,000 in assets
- Almost 50% of the parents with custody of the children live in poverty following the divorce
- 27% of recently divorced women had less than $25,000 in annual income vs. 17% of recently divorced men
- 60% of people under the poverty level are divorced women and children
These numbers are staggering! Just reading them makes my heart break in so many ways for so many people. The saddest part is, much of this is preventable! Now, not every broken relationship is due to money. But, taking steps towards financial oneness is extremely beneficial at bringing couples together in ways they didn’t realize they were being pulled apart. Being intimate about finances is difficult and requires a lot of trust, which couples will gain as they grow together in this area! And this trust carries over into all areas of life!
Steps to Take to Boost Your Financial “Love Language”
Seek out marriage and financial counseling before it’s too late! If I haven’t mentioned it before, in real life I play a Physical Therapist. By far the hardest group of people to treat and effectively get better are those that have had a certain pain (very commonly back pain!) for years, and then one day they decide that’s the magic day to get better. So, they show up in my office and essentially tell me a long story of pain and problems and say, “Fix me!” Unfortunately, the research on treating chronic back pain isn’t too kind. While chronic pain patients can and do get better (there’s solid research evidence for this, believe it or not!) it takes a lot longer, they must work extra hard, and it’s often an up and down process to improvement.
Marital stress is similar. The longer you let it simmer, the more deeply the pain, frustration, anger, resentment, lack of love will become ingrained in you, making it harder to forgive, resolve, reconcile, and move forward together. This is hard to fix! Fortunately, marriage counseling does work! Read this New York Times piece. (FYI, I would rename the article something more positive about how often counseling does work rather than focusing on the lower percentage of times it doesn’t!)
If after 4 years of ending counseling, 62% of couples are still together, I would say that’s a pretty decent success rate. Now, if the source of that stress was financial in any way, I would also recommend some good financial counseling. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey. He has some of best financial education materials available for home or small group study. He reports that after budgeting for 3 months that 84% of couples feel more in control of their finances. Would feeling more in control of your finances ease some of your relationship tension? If so, I’d find one of his Financial Peace University classes (usually offered through local churches) or seek out a good fee-based financial planner to help talk you through your current financial situation.
Here are some other steps you can take as a couple to help put to bed your financial worries, no Valentine’s Day innuendo intended! 😉
- Get marriage counseling focused conflict resolution and effective communication styles
- Read the book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman and learn how to speak your significant other’s love language
- Put in the work to apply what you learned in counseling and reading relationship books into your relationship!
- Read the Financial Independence article followed by the Budgeting 101 article and go through the steps together
- Read The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey to help you both see how normal people successfully get out of debt, change their lives and marriages, and achieve financial success
- Establish some common financial goals that you both agree on and that are realistic
- Discuss and make financial goals, decisions, and plans together!
- Understand that both of you don’t have to be involved with every detail of your finances, but each of you should know what is going on and be involved in decision-making!
- Work with each of your strengths to determine who is best at crunching the numbers and who is best at making shopping lists, paying the bills, etc. Share the financial chores based off your strengths!
- Share all financial information with each other, don’t hold anything back that you may be keeping secret
- Be open, honest, receptive, and a good listener as your spouse shares with you regarding their financial goals, fears, anxieties, tensions, irritations, wounds, etc.
What Successful Couples Do Right
- Keep your consumer debt minimal to non-existent! Strong research correlates high amounts of consumer debt (e.g. credit card balances, personal loans, high car payments, etc.) with a higher predictive likelihood of divorce! But the good news is, husbands & wives that addressed their issues and sought financial advice and counseling improved both their financial situation and their relationship! So, formulate a plan to pay off debt, develop long-term financial goals, and work towards them together!
- Some common findings in the financial lives of couples who are in “great marriages” are that typically one of the partners handled the day-to-day finances, which requires trust and open/honest communication; they had little to no debt OR a plan in place to pay off their debt; and they lived within their means and were frugal (that is, they were following the bullet point above!). They also discussed and came to a decision together PRIOR to making an expensive purchase, handled conflict without arguing, and avoided withdrawing and avoidance as well as escalating the situation during a financial disagreement.
These are two big things that we can all work towards to be better in our marriages! My hope is that you and your significant other develop a bond of intimacy in an area that may have previously caused tension!
Happy Valentine’s Day,
Dan, and my Valentine, Jessica
- Have you and your spouse had any fights or argued about finances?
- What was the source of tension that caused the fight?
- How often do you argue about finances? Do you fall into the range mentioned above (once / week) that puts you in the same category as those couples that end up divorced?
- What are you willing to work on to address these issues? What steps will you take?
- Discuss with your spouse, if you’re married, or fiancée if you’re engaged, what your emotional outlook is towards finances.
- How were finances in your household growing up?
- What financial challenges did your family face growing up?
- What mistakes/arguments did you see your parents make with finances growing up that you don’t want to repeat in your relationship?
- What are your strengths? What are your spouse’s strengths? Which one of you would do better tracking the budget vs. which one of you would rather not?