A broken couple standing on their white wedding cake to signify divorce.

Money Fights Lead to Divorce: Studies Reveal that Arguments about Money are a Primary Cause of Divorce

If you and your mate are fighting about money, it’s important to take the time to compromise on the issues, or you may need to be worried about your relationship. According to a survey by Francis Financial, Inc., money is the leading cause of divorce. Results show that financial disagreements, a lack of financial well‐being and financial inequality were associated with the likelihood of divorce.

Francis Financial, Inc. conducted a study, surveying over 150 women who were going through or had gone through divorce. The results shed light on the emotional, legal, and financial difficulties that women face during this major life event and reveal the money behaviors during the marriage that lead to their breakup.

For many of the women who participated in the study, money disagreements were common. Participants told stories of their husbands’ unhealthy relationship with money as a contributing factor to their breakups. Neglecting to pay bills on time and out-of-control spending were recurring sources of financial conflict during the marriage.

Nearly a quarter (24%) shared that the most significant financial worry during their marriage was their husbands’ spending habits, which led to conflict. A similar percentage of women admitted that finding the money to pay everyday bills was very difficult.  Twelve percent of the women surveyed said that saving for the future was their biggest financial worry when they were married, which added marital tension and stress.

“Historically, the two things couples argue about most are sex and money,” says Anna Yusim, MD of Upper East Side Psychiatry. A recent study conducted by AARP supports the findings that money can be a significant contributing factor to divorce. About half of the women (53%) from the AARP survey said money problems created by their ex-husbands led to the divorce, while 44 percent of men said the same of their ex-wives.[1] TD Ameritrade found that 41% of Gen-Xers and 29% of Baby Boomers said that they ended their marriage due to money disagreements.

Yusim suggests that while arguments about money can result from unhealthy spending habits and an actual dearth of resources, they can also result from certain unhealthy money-related attitudes:

1.)  Lack mentality. Always feeling like you don’t have enough no matter how much you have

2.) Catastrophizing. Fearing that one day you could lose everything despite having plenty in the present moment

3.) Entitlement. Feeling like the world owes you something but then lacking gratitude if/when you receive it

4.) Money addiction. Using money, shopping and materialism to fill an inner void and compensate for a feeling of emptiness

Researchers Sonya Britt and Jeffrey Dew studied over 4,500 couples and they also concluded that financial issues are a primary cause of divorce. Couples who argue about money early in their relationships — regardless of their income, debt or net worth — are at greater risk for divorce. Arguments about money are longer and usually more intense than other types of marital disagreements. They can also signify deeper issues in a marriage, such as unhealthy power imbalances and trust issues. [2]

Money disagreements create a fissure within the relationship that’s hard to repair. It is no secret that financial differences are one of the most common reasons couples split. While sad indeed, there are things you can do to get past these issues:

  1. Draft a budget. Sit down together and put your expenses and financial goals on paper. Be realistic, and make sure that sticking to the budget won’t require too much effort. Remember that budgets are like diets – they never work if they’re unrealistic.
  2. Communicate. Too many couples fail to talk openly about their finances and the differences in how they think about them. Approach the subject in a calm, non-threatening way, and focus on finding constructive solutions that work for both of you.
  3. Be considerate. Whether you realize it or not, the way you manage your money will affect your spouse as well. Make sure he or she is comfortable with your spending and investment habits.

Matrimonial attorney, Isaiah Vallejo-Juste, suggests that to avoid fights couples should speak with each other as to how their income will be deposited and how marital bills will be paid and develop a long-term plan for handling college expenses and retirement. By agreeing to communicate about their concerns and wants for both their immediate and long-term economic priorities, the healthier the marriage will be.

If this doesn’t work, consider seeing a marriage counselor, a financial planner, or both. They can apply an outsider’s perspective to your specific situation, and hopefully find solutions that will get you past your problems and help to keep your marriage strong.

[1] Xenia P. Montenegro, AARP, “The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond.” 2004

[2] Sonya Britt and Jeffrey Dew, Family Relations Journal, “Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce,” 2012

Also by Stacy Francis:

Know Your Worth: Protect Your Personal Finances in Divorce

Financial Abuse – The Most Common Type of Abuse That Far Too Many Ignore.

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