Money Matters: Financial Issues Leading to Divorce


In a time of “Global Recession” it is important to examine how financial strains impact relationships. Even for individuals, finances can be a source of strain, but with added responsibilities of family, the financial strain is amplified, often leading to divorces and relationship breakdowns. According to a survey by Citibank, fifty-seven percent of divorced couples in the America cited financial problems as the primary reason for the demise of their marriage. The central issue is that the stressor of finances in a relationship often mirrors power struggles among couples. There are usually financial imbalances, which leads to the breadwinner holding more power over the lesser earner and in turn leading to the decision maker being the higher wage earner. Also, if one person has more control over finances, and one partner is mismanaging funds, it would put strain on the other partner. Let’s take a look at money and the power that we have given those who have got it in our modern society and the effects on relationships.

Money & Power
The issues over money may mask deeply rooted power struggles. The higher wage earner, may feel more important in the relationship and assume a dominant role. The lower wage earner often seeks equality through sharing funds resisted by the higher earner. This dynamic creates trust issues and can lead to the ungluing of the relationship. Money is a powerful way to control people, those who hold it feel secure while the other insecure. Some partners define their social role based on being a bigger wage earner than their spouse. This financial incompatibility has to do with how people are raised, “women want an equal partnership, but men want to take the lead if that’s how they were raised,” according to Cheryl Broussard, a registered Investment advisor and author of The Black Woman’s Guide To Financial Independence: Smart Ways To Take Charge Of Your Money, Build Wealth, and Achieve Financial Security. The effect of it on a marriage compounds when there is a lack of open communication about financial issues. Broussard believes that the subject of money is often taboo, but it is important to discuss otherwise it can cause divisions in the couple.

Money & Personal Attacks –exploring the Underlying Issues
Larger relationships issues are often concealed by arguments over money. It may be easier to argue about what is tangible (a high credit card bill) rather than examine the deeper emotional issues, such as feeling disrespected. In relationships, issues about money are often convenient tools masking personal attacks. Are the money issues a way to personally attack your partner or have power over your partner? Do you feel superior to your partner because you make more money? What is underlying these attacks? Be aware how money can divide for example, accusing one another of not providing or contributing enough to the relationship. Psychologist John Gottman found the following communication styles predict if a couple is likely to divorce; in Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, thriving marriages avoid contempt, defensiveness or stubbornness–according to Gottman if you “criticize [or] attack your partner, not just a specific behavior” your heading into relationship trouble. Better to frame your issue as, it would be important to pay the bills when they are due, so that we do not have to pay interest fees rather than saying, why don’t you ever pay the bills on time, I can’t trust you to follow through since doing the will likely escalate tensions and not foster mutual understanding and awareness. Another predictor of a relationship breakdown, according to Gottman is showing “contempt, insulting or psychologically abusing your partner.” This is exemplified in arguments about spending money, such as name calling about being irresponsible with money. It is also problematic when spouses react to contempt by being defensive and attempting to “right” the other by using money as a pulpit by which you can attack your partner. The final predictor of downward communication is stonewalling; walking away in anger and not resolving the issue in any fashion.

Healing the Division
Be Specific: In order to heal the divide caused by financial incompatibility, according to Gottman, you must be specific with your complaints over money matters. Let your partner know through the use of “I” statements, how the issue affected you by saying…”when you did x, I felt Y”

Listen, don’t be defensive:
When you are coping with power struggles related to money, it is important to listen to one another, and for both partners to be aware of the power dynamic underscoring the tension in the relationship. Couples who are stable, according to Gottman have “repair mechanisms” that include making empathic statements (not necessarily delivered in a “nice” tone) such as “I understand,” or “I see” and keeping their spouse focused on the issue at hand by reminding them “that’s off topic.”

Find the Core Issue:
Ask yourself what the real issue is between you and your partner. An example is that you may battle about a credit card bill, and realize later that it was a convenient forum to insult your partner, and provide a sense of false superiority. Often, fights about money turn to deeply rooted issues about not feeling good enough about oneself or feeling exploited.

Become Aware of Your Fighting Style:
It is beneficial to be aware of your fighting style when dealing with issues about finances. Successful marriages bear the hallmarks of certain styles of fighting, according to Gottman: i) you’re both avoiders, agreeing to disagree and move on, ii)you’re both volatile, airing your grievances early and loudly, or iii)you’re both “validators” acknowledging each other’s feelings.

Thoughts about money = creation of reality about money
In order to find a resolution and reach equilibrium, examine if the issues are rooted in trusting your partner, or having a sense of control about your present and future. Explore your relationship to the concept of money. How do you feel about money? Has it been a struggle for you to have it? How has your belief system contributed to you having it or longing for it? Do you have a sense of entitlement that your partner is expected to support you? Often, people develop their relationship with money in childhood. You may want to explore your early thoughts about money- did it come to you easily, were you an entrepreneur at an early age, a hard worker, or were you always asking for support? Your issues with money formed at an early age may inform your present belief system and circumstances.

Think Togetherness- You’ll Create it
If you find yourself struggling with your partner over money, recognize you may be triggered by an underlying power dynamic causing you to feel disrespected and inferior. Ask yourself how you can feel more confident with your career selection, satisfied with your earnings, secure in your finances, and comfortable with money? It is important when you are in a committed relationship to view finances as a team. You are both working towards the same goal of having as much financial security as possible. Work as a team and the possibilities of a secure financial future may be an essential part of a solid partnership.

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