Children, sex, in-laws, work stress – how couples handle these issues says plenty about a marriage and, often, a divorce. Not surprising to many, however, the No. 1 predictor of divorce is money, according to a study from Kansas State University.
More specifically, researchers say that arguing about money, especially early in a relationship, is the best predictor of divorce – despite a couple’s economic bracket.
“As with sex, for example, arguments about money are probably connected to deeper, underlying issues, such as trust, self-esteem, identity, etc.,” says Dr. Anne Brennan Malec, a clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist with a background in accounting and business.
“Like most other areas of conflict, frequent communication and formulating a plan for how to address the financial situation allows many, if not most, issues to be adequately and respectfully resolved.”
Dr. Malec, author of the book “Marriage in Modern Life: Why It Works, When It Works” (www.drannemalec.com), offers constructive solutions for marital money stressors.
• Be partners in your common cause. When one partner carries most of the financial burden, it can thrust that partner into an almost parental role over the other. This is a form of asymmetry that can affect other areas of the relationship and erode a marriage, creating resentment by each partner for different reasons. Whether or not you make roughly the same amount of money as your spouse – or none at all because you’re a stay-at-home parent – stay involved in the goings on of your household’s finances. Understand what you can and cannot afford as a family. Communication is crucial. Discuss your feelings about money and how both of you contribute to the overall well-being of your family.
• Avoid financial infidelity. Every couple has to determine how their joint and individual expenses will be shared. Account for the necessities, from rent or mortgage to groceries and more. Account for all of your typical expenses, which may include date night and individual interests or hobbies. Respect individual interests – whether or not they are reasonable expenses, understand that they are important to your partner and may help the relationship. If one shops too much or spends too much on cars, find a way to compromise. Having an agreed-upon monthly budget helps minimize financial tension, and to spend more requires a good explanation.
• Be open to money issues beyond the marriage. Most adults have some degree of debt because of a college loan, child support, a medical history or a host of other reasons. Ideally, you will have discussed and come to terms with a spouse’s debt before marriage. Also, consider the potential upsides to having a prenuptial agreement, especially when one or both of you come to the marriage with significant assets or debts, or when children are involved.
• Have annual discussions about a spouse’s stay-at-home status. There are many good reasons for a mother or a father to stay home and raise children, but you should revisit this decision once a year to determine if it still works for the family. The spouse who chooses to stay at home should make him or herself fully aware of the potential risk of doing so. Can you afford a one-income household? Will the stay-at-home spouse be able to re-enter the workforce? Will you be fulfilled at home? These are valid questions to seriously consider each year.
Dr. Anne Brennan Malec (www.drannemalec.com) is the founder and managing partner of Symmetry Counseling (www.symmetrycounseling.com).