Does Financial Drama Lead To Divorce?

Marriage Therapist: Financial Dramas That Lead To Divorce
Love, Heartbreak

Money woes are never good... but are they fatal?

Bankruptcy, shopping addictions, gambling addictions, and conflicting monetary philosophies can all cause great stress in a marriage. But are they the precursor for divorce?

Life Coach Marcy Garcea's answer: a resounding no. As she explains, "Like you have probably heard, when a spouse has an affair, it is just a symptom of a bigger issue. The same holds true for money. Our money behaviors are just an outward sign of an internal struggle. Whether it is a struggle in the individual or in the relationship, it is a manifestation of something else. But does this mean that no one gets a divorce due to money issues? Absolutely not."

Garcea continues: "I have no doubt that there are people every day who are getting divorces because they believe that money issues tore them apart. This is fine — if they do not wish to elevate the next relationship they enter into. When you do not examine what is underneath the money issue, you are not addressing the real problem at hand, so you are probably going to repeat it in one way or another."

Relationship experts Bob Tomes and Jane Warren offer some advice for avoiding financial tumult all together. Here are their ideas:

The 3 Don'ts of Financial Strategy in Marriage

1. Not Discussing Strategy in Advance.

Your daughter's turning sixteen. Of course we're buying her a car. We are? Your second daughter is off to college. Of course we're paying for tuition and living expenses. We are? Your youngest announces she's getting married. Of course we're paying for the wedding. We are?

These financial assumptions, undiscussed between a couple, not only highlight differences in philosophy and values, but often come to light in a public manner that can easily create good guy-bad guy scenarios. Can you imagine discovering that your spouse has told your daughter that "of course" you'll be covering her tuition and living expenses, when you believe in the importance of children having "tough skin" in their educational endeavors? Now you get to choose between being the bad guy and saying "whoa", or giving in and going along. Either way, it's a recipe for long-term resentment in a relationship — because you're not approaching the issue as a team.

Here's an example from Garcea that demonstrates the issue of not discussing strategies and behaviors in advance:

"Kim is a big spender. She loves sales and shops during most of her lunches at work. Her boyfriend is conservative and loves to save money. Unfortunately, they do not talk about any of this before they get married. When Dean and Kim tie the knot, Kim continues her shopping habits.  She also starts incorporating Dean’s income into her habit quickly for the "newlywed apartment" they share. Dean notices that she's spending more and protests a bit, but she claims her shopping is so they can have a nice place together. He lets it go until she dips into his savings.

Dean blows up and insists on her scaling down — no more spending. Kim gets angry and goes shopping to feel better. She shops to avoid deeper feelings of insecurity; she is trying to fill a hole, and Dean is threatening that comforting space when he says she has to stop. Dean saves because he has his own scarcity issue, and he fears that there is never enough.

Kim and Dean did not discuss money and the attitudes that they both held before they were married. This is a very important issue for many people; those who spend verses those who save come from very different areas of understanding and relating to money. If Dean looked at what really upset him about Kim's spending, and instead of bursting out in anger, explained it to her, it may have been more productive for both of them. Dean felt betrayed by her going into his saving without discussing it with him. She threatened his security, but had no idea she was doing so. Dean made Kim feel trapped by telling her that she could not spend any more money. That threatened her security, but how could he know that?"

2. Giving You An Allowance.

Tomes and Warren explain their next tip: "When one person is earning all of the family income (or even the majority of the family income) a major relationship error arises if that person also maintains control of that income, providing their spouse with an allowance from which to run the household. I choose the word "allowance" carefully. It's a parent-child, command-and-control approach to relationship finances that breeds dependence, resentment, and eventually an adult version of teenage rebellion! The at-home spouse shouldn't be calling all the parenting shots and the in-the-paid-workforce spouse shouldn't be calling all the financial shots. Be in this together or watch yourself part."

An example, from Garcea:

"John and Stacy have been married for six years. She recently had a second child and is now staying home from work. John has always made more money than Stacy, but he never made an issue of it. He has always said that everything was "theirs", and did not specify anything beyond that. Stacy knows that she needs a haircut, but is afraid to tell John that she needs time on the weekend, the only real "family" time they have, and that she goes to an expensive place when she wants to get her hair done.

Because she feels guilty about no longer bringing in money, she does not say anything and lets her hair go wild. She becomes angry that she doesn't look her best and has no time for herself, so she gets snippy with John. He feels attacked because he has no idea what is going on. It creates an issue between them that gets bigger and bigger the longer Stacy holds her resentment in by denying herself what she wants.

What is Stacy really upset about? She is having feeling of regret and inadequacy regarding being a Mom and no longer bringing in income. This is a big life change! Staying at home with your children, all day, everyday is the hardest job that does not pay a salary. Instead of talking to John about how she feels or getting help with this radical life change, she is just stuffing it down and snapping at her husband.

If Stacy asked herself, 'What am I really upset about here?' and looked beyond the haircut, she may be able to tell her husband what she needs — he can't give it to her if he doesn't know about it."

3. Lending Money To Family & Friends.

Here's Tomes' and Warren's third tip: "Assuming that the decision to lend money is a mutual one, this scenario is not necessarily a big problem. Where the problem arises is when the family member's ability (or willingness) to repay the loan starts to go sideways. Now all kinds of family of origin baggage starts to get kicked up: 'He's your brother; you need to deal with him.' 'I can't put pressure on him because he gets so angry.' 'Tell your mother what's going on, she'll get on his case.' 'I'm not involving my mother in my brother's affairs.' 'Fine. Do it your way. But it's your family, it’s your problem and you need to get our money back.' When any joint financial issue becomes one person's problem, you're no longer allies and that's a cornerstone of a solid relationship."

Whether or not financial problems cause a relationship's demise, or just contribute to it, we can all take these lessons to heart: at the core, they encourage real communication and honesty — now that's something every couple can do with more of.

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