“Just Be Careful Not to Get Divorced”

Social Norm Violations for Dummies:

  • Talk about money
  • Talk about divorce

mind blown

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.

944538_708640004691_1145897323_nFrom 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!

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16 Comments

  1. I love how you said, “…personal finance should be used as a tool to enhance our marriages.” I never thought of it like that before and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m saddened by the innumerable stories of failed marriages due to money fights. It hasn’t always been easy for my husband and me (in our oh-so-impressively-long 4 years of marriage), but I can say talking about personal finance has actually enhanced our marriage. Thanks for the fresh perspective.
    Laura Harris recently posted…How to Be Broke, Married and (Still) in LoveMy Profile

    • That’s great! We’ve come to the conclusion that it will never be easier…but it will be worth it! There are a lot of paths we can take in our marriages, and apathy is not one of them 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. You have made two excellent points in your post that I like a lot!

    1) 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?

    2) couples utilizing a monthly budget are guaranteed to do all three of those at least 12 times year! On the surface it looks like you talking about money, but in reality you’re building something much bigger than a bank account!

    These points show how important it is to work together as a couple on both the money front and achieving your dreams. When you both have alignment on the big picture, you become a team, learning to work together, striving to achieve those important goals.

    Luke, this was a great article and thanks for the shout out. It is awesome that we now have people openly discussing the topic of divorce in the PF community!
    Bryan @ Just One More Year recently posted…Simplicity: Considerations for downsizing our homeMy Profile

  3. Money is such an emotional topic, but also one that too few people think of as emotional! Therefore it makes sense that not many of us examine our emotions around money, which means that we’ve probably never talked with our spouses about their real feelings around money. Put all that together, and you’ve got a perfect storm of money anxiety and feelings that may never get acknowledged. No wonder money causes so many divorces!
    Our Next Life recently posted…Happy Sacrifices // What We’re Willing to Give Up to Retire EarlyMy Profile

    • “Perfect storm” is a great way to describe it! The “don’t look at it and hope it’s okay’ philosophy works…until it doesn’t. Death by a thousand cuts, they say.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hey Luke,
    These are some excellent points. Personally speaking, money was not a factor in my divorce after 23 years of marriage, but it was something we could have done more to be on the same page. Hats off to those couples who can see eye to eye on the money stuff!

    Great post!
    Laura Beth

  5. My husband and I have been married for over 20 years, and only in the last 3 years have we been on the same page financially. (Thank you, Dave Ramsey.) We still find that our budget meetings are magnets for every possible point of conflict between us. No wonder we avoided them before! But since we have been facing our budget, we have been facing all sorts of issues – and resolving them. I think couples avoid financial communication because in so doing, they think they are side-stepping conflict. In fact, they’re only in denial of conflict – and it will rear its head eventually. We can choose to deal with conflict in a controlled way (eg. via budget meetings), or we can let it surface as a force that is out of control.
    Prudence Debtfree recently posted…Roadblock to Frugal Renovations: “We can’t clean that carpet.”My Profile

    • Thanks for your insightful perspective. You’re exactly right. It’s not a matter of if, but when, we deal with conflict. We’ve been brain washed into thinking that conflict = less love. In many sitatuions, some conflict = more love!

  6. I haven’t been married forever (13 years) but I can already look back and see how all of those little money decisions together, based on our shared goals, has really made us more of a team. You’re absolutely right, if we hadn’t had to deal with money issues and financial planning, we would have missed out on an aspect of camaraderie that can’t be gained elsewhere.
    Janeen recently posted…Money Monday #14My Profile

  7. I think one thing that’s tough is even when you love the other person, most people don’t like disagreeing. We nearly always disagree about something during a budget meeting. I mean usually it’s $40 to spend on this or that, so we don’t really squabble about it, but if you’ve never seen constructive disagreements I think that’s where budgeting and personal finance can tear marriages apart.

    • You’re exactly right about people disagreeing. But I’m under the impression that constructive disagreements are behind every successful marriage. It’s part of compromising. Another benefit of budeting? Allows for constructive disagreements that propel a marriage forward instead of sporadic disagreements that tear a marriage down.

      To be able to disagree with your spouse is a skill. The flip side – and what is not a skill – is just going with the flow until someone blows up.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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