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Study: Money is top source of contention in marriage

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Continuing the series on what you learn in premarital education, this month’s column focuses on finances.

Research conducted with divorcing couples in Johnson County confirms what many of us know instinctively — the No. 1 cause of disagreements in marriage is money.

And it doesn’t matter how “poor” or “rich” you are. One third of the participants in the survey of people in the Families in Transition program at Youth Connections had a family income of more than $90,000, and approximately one-third had a family income of less than $45,000.

Couples who don’t talk about how they view and handle money before their marriage rarely understand where their values came from.

Attitudes about money are emotional, which often causes frustration, confusion, conflict and an unending cycle of disagreements.


Here are some things you might learn in premarital counseling:

How to talk about finances.

Premarital counseling allows you to set aside time when both of you can concentrate on the topic and agree to discuss, not argue. The time to have a serious discussion about your values and attitudes about money is not when one of you just made what the other considers an extravagant purchase — a new video game or a new pair of shoes.

Each others’ past

Talking about how your parents spent or saved and how that influenced you today is very important. Learning about your fiancé’s history will help you understand him or her better in the future. What “money messages” did he or she learn as a child?

It’s not always about the money

Disagreements about money are often about dreams, power and control. Because of your experiences as a child, you may have dreamed about living in a large house, taking a vacation every year or owning an expensive car. Or your fiancé may have lived in a house where money was viewed as power or control. This can be very difficult later if it’s not expressed early.

Habits are hard to break.

If you grew up in a family with little money, you may try to save every penny by clipping coupons or denying yourself what you consider expensive pleasures such as buying lunch out instead of packing your own lunch.

Or maybe your family had enough money for vacations and other extras, so you expect you’ll have the same lifestyle and don’t mind spending money for something you want.

If you’re a saver who marries a spender, you can be sure there will be disagreements unless you take steps to prevent them. Even if both of you are savers or spenders, it’s possible one may be more zealous about it than the other.

Be realistic.

If your current financial situation does not allow you to reach your dreams now, you need to be realistic about what you can achieve and when. Figure out what you can afford now. You might need to adjust your expectations for the future.

Set a budget.

Creating a realistic budget — and sticking to it — will reduce disagreements. Premarital counseling can help you create a simple budget that both of you can live with. A sample budget will help you be realistic and define short- and long-term financial goals.

Even if you don’t seek professional premarital counseling, seek professional financial advice. If you’re new to budgeting or trying to create a savings plan, ask for help. Talk with a banker,

financial adviser or credit counseling bureau.

And lastly, know what’s really important. “Rich” doesn’t have to mean money. You and your fiancé should discuss your values about what defines “richness” in your lives. You might consider yourself rich because you give your time to a worthy cause, have a fulfilling job or career, want to raise a healthy family, or you have a talent that is valued by others. One of my favorite poems begins “You are richer today than you were yesterday if you have laughed often, given something, forgiven even more.”

Too often, we are focused on being “money rich,” and we often don’t stop to realize how rich we really are.

Bea Northcott is a columnist for the Daily Journal, writing about marriages, relationships and family. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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