Financial Disagreements Can Spell Trouble in Marriage

While financial disagreements are the most common issue in marriage (yes, even more frequent than conflicts over sex life), there has been inconsistent research as to whether these types of disagreements actually predict divorce. However, research in 2012 did find that early conflicts about money do, in fact, predictor such an end.

Research Into Financial Conflict and Divorce

To investigate this question, researchers from Kansas State University and Texas Tech University examined data collected through the National Survey of Families and Households.  The researchers concluded that arguments about money are not just a contributing factor, but are actually the top predictor of divorce.

In fact, financial disagreements were even more of a divorce predictor than conflicts over:

  • Children
  • A couple’s sex-life
  • The in-laws

Why Financial Conflict Leads to Marriage Trouble

The researchers hypothesized that arguments over money normally take longer to recover from than other arguments. Why the longer recovery time? This may be because, hidden below the surface of these arguments, there are often deeper issues within the relationship. Some of these include underlying trust issues (addressed below), and power differentials within the relationship, such as how decisions are made.

Trust in the Relationship

Another issue connected to financial disagreement is trust. For instance, if one partner decides to spend $2000 on a new road bike after previously agreeing to discuss major purchases, that could be a problem! It’s important for both partners in a relationship to know that they can trust one another. This definitely includes communicating major financial decisions in advance (yes, including that new road bike).

Financial Distress in Relationships

Certainly if a household is in financial distress, that can definitely negatively impact the relationship. The Great Recession in 2008 didn’t help couples and families that were already struggling to pay the bills and support households. For many families a job loss, increase in rent, or an accident/illness can significantly strain any relationship.

Differences in Financial Outlook

Financial differences can also reveal different fiscal approaches that each person holds regarding money and saving vs. spending. One partner may have a conservative outlook when it comes to money, and believes in saving every penny. On the other hand, another partner may spend on impulse without thinking about the future and how they will pay the bills. They may also not be able to save any money for emergencies or retirement. These differences can make agreeing on finances a challenge and certainly can lead to trouble in the marriage.

What to Do about Financial Conflict?

Here are several tips that couples can do to address financial disagreements:

  • Start early, before even getting married, to make sure you are both on the same page regarding finances. Consider seeing a financial planner to project into the future and compare fiscal approaches.
  • Attend pre-marital counseling and be sure to include discussions on spending money in order to come to an understanding with your partner.
  • Remember, even though financial disagreements may statistically increase the chance of divorce or a break-up, it’s far from a guarantee that will happen to your relationship. When communicating, try to see things from your partner’s perspective and truly listen to them.

It’s definitely preferable to get financial issues out in the open before marrying. However, you may already be married and discovering significant financial conflict now. Fortunately, an experienced couples counselor can help you get back on track.

Overall, regardless of what stage you are at in your relationship, communication about money, and its use, are important discussions. Also, don’t assume your relationship is doomed if you have disagreements over money. Couples counseling can help you both learn to more effectively handle this issue. Furthermore, It can allow you to understand each other’s perspectives on finances and talk openly about this issue. That way, you can both move forward together. United, not just in marriage, but on the same page financially as well.


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