Social Norm Violations for Dummies:
- Talk about money
- Talk about divorce
Divorce is not something you talk about until you’re getting divorced or you’ve been divorced. It’s very rare that we talk about it unless we absolutely have to. What I find interesting about divorce is the fact that it’s 1) largely preventable and 2) extremely impactful to our lives (it’s kind of like heart disease!). Considering those two things, don’t you think we would talk about it more often?
Or…maybe we do talk about it. It’s just we talk about the wrong part.
It’s hard to believe that up to 50% of married Americans will end up divorced in any given year. The most common causes of divorce have been identified for years. Unfortunately, the usefulness of this research stopped at the “identification of a problem” phase.
The popularity of research on divorces caused by financial strife is actually contributing to the number one cause of divorce. We are told over and over how financial issues can ruin a marriage. I have no reason to believe otherwise.
Married couples, especially newlyweds, need to be told about this research…and then how to be a part of the other 50% of non-divorcees! Divorce research tells us there is a problem but nowhere do they offer us a solution. As a result we are left to assume solutions that are not solutions at all.
Our assumptions are often times too simplistic. Here is an example of our thought process: “Financial issues are the leading cause of divorce. To reduce the chance of divorce we should NOT have financial issues. In order to not have financial issues we should NOT talk about finances. I love you too much to let financial issues come between us! Problem solved!”
The problem is not solved. The problem is intensified!
We look at personal finance between a husband and wife as if to say “just be careful not to get divorced.” What about the other side? Personal finance should be used as a tool to enhance our marriages. It’s hard to believe, but its main objective is not to destroy our life.
How many times a month do you talk about an important topic that genuinely impacts both you and your spouse? How many times do you talk to your spouse without a single phone or TV being used? How often do you get to voice your opinion on what kind of life you want to live?
Many married couples go years without doing one of those things. However, couples utilizing a monthly budget are guaranteed to do all three of those at least 12 times year! On the surface it looks like your talking about money, but in reality you’re building something much bigger than a bank account!
I don’t want personal finance to cause separation. Instead, I urge others to make personal finance another reason you love and feel loved. What else are you going to do? Not talk about it at all? That’s impossible. Again, things don’t just work themselves out – you work them out.
Do the Right Things for the Wrong Reason
A few weeks ago I talked about the often-cited Marshmallow Test in which I reiterated the importance of self-control and delaying gratification. Knowing that much means you passed first grade. What’s important to realize, and is often forgotten, is that self-control is not an inborn trait. Self-control is a habit. It’s a skill. What better way to practice a skill, one in which bleeds into other areas of our lives, than practicing to properly manage money? We’re tested every day, multiple times of day.
In the post, I argue that we can all learn to “sit on our own hands”, similar to the kids who were willing to resist the immediate temptation of one marshmallow for two marshmallows. One of my favorite “tricks” to increase our self-control is to do the right things for the wrong reasons.
From my earlier post: “My favorite financial example of this comes from my wife, Megan. Would she be living on a budget, saving, delaying gratification (read: waiting to buy clothes), excited to teach Sam about money and spend some dinners talking about sinking-funds to the extent that she does now? I would bet not!
We can hopefully agree that all of those things are inherently good. But she doesn’t do any of them for those reasons. She does them because she loves me. She said, “Yes, we can do this” without knowing a single thing about personal finance. She trusted me. She follows a budget because she loves, and wanted to show love for me. All those other benefits are just icing on the cake.”
It’s much too easy to become focused on the wrong indicators of wealth – bank accounts, retirement accounts, real estate, cars, vacations, etc. Why? It’s tangible. We can easily benchmark them and, needless to stay, they are fun. Although they are all important aspects of wealth, they pale in comparison to others – relationships, reduced stress, freedom, opportunities, etc.
I’m actually not suggesting that we change what we focus on. What I am suggesting, though, is that we change why we are focused on them in the first place. I can only imagine the feeling of being a multi-millionaire (or even just a millionaire!). But does that feeling come because I can look at a piece of paper with a few zeroes on it? Or does it come from the fact that we worked together to get it; the fact that we replaced I with us; the fact that we have more opportunities; the fact that we are we?
Having been married for only 2.5 years, I’m far from qualified to give marital advice. What I do know, however, is that money is not a good reason to get divorced…because it’s a great reason to be married.
Question: Why is the topic of money so polarizing to married couples? How can personal finance be used to bring couples together, rather than the traditional and ironic “don’t-look-at-it-because-I-love-you” approach?
Side note: Today I just came across Bryan’s post at JustOneMoreYear about divorce! In it, he shares the advice he gave his daughter just last week. It’s a great read!