It’s no secret that financial conflict is among the top reasons that couples choose to divorce.
Why is money one of the root causes of arguments in marriage? We think that it’s because, when it comes to money, things are rarely simple.
Money arguments are generally about more than just money. In a well-known study related to money and marital conflict, researchers Papp, Cummings and Goeke-Morey found that money arguments tend to cause more stress. They concluded that money arguments are more likely to be left unresolved and have a more lasting impact on the relationship than nonfinancial issues.
Since each partner in a marriage has their own individual relationship with money, they are also likely to hold different beliefs about money. These financial beliefs are rarely discussed before marriage and yet they are linked to personal values and vulnerabilities— security, power, success, freedom, control, self-worth, and self-esteem to name a few. Therefore, an argument about overspending may be at its core about one partner feeling controlled and underappreciated, and the other feeling anxious and experiencing a lack of trust.
Money can easily become the vehicle through which deeper relationship issues are communicated. It may feel easier to tell your partner, “You’re spending too much” rather than, “I’m worried about us not being on the same page about our commitment to our future.”
Sometimes sweeping the topic of money under the rug seems like the best way to avoid a huge blow up. Yet, while this may serve its purpose for keeping the peace in the short term, in the long run it is likely to make the money argument more emotionally charged the next time it rears its ugly head.
And, of course, it WILL come up again because we interact with money every day.
Money arguments are, in no simple terms, unavoidable when it comes to marriage. When two individuals come together with different money histories, made up of different experiences, beliefs, and behaviors, there are bound to be some bumps in the road now and again. How couples argue about money then becomes more significant than the mere fact that arguments about money occur. When you get down to it, money arguments are really about partners feeling misunderstood and feeling their needs aren’t being met.
Focusing the conversation on these areas rather than on dollars and cents can help couples work through a money argument, so they can get back to building the life they want, together.
About the Author:
Cohen Duncan is one of JOYN’s Behavioral Wealth Specialists and a licensed and trained Marriage and Family Therapist.
As a Behavioral Wealth Specialist, her goal is to help people navigate their decision-making process while keeping in mind the broader context of their lives and their values.
 “For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home.” Lauren Papp. E. Mark Cummings. Marcie C. Goeke-Morey. January 27th 2009.