|A study by Utah State University researchers found that the more a couple fights about money, the more likely they are to split. (Shutterstock)
A recent study by Utah State University researchers found that the more a couple fights about money, the more likely they are to split. In fact, couples who disagree about finances once a week are more than 30% more likely to divorce than couples who disagree about money a few times each month.
Even couples who do not end up in divorce court cite their finances as a source of relationship strife. The latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker survey found that 45% of respondents' money talks with their significant others wound up in arguments, and 72% of young professionals say they've bickered about finances.
But the way you and your spouse save, spend, earn and invest can actually be points of bonding and affection if approached in the right way. "Money has never come off the list of the top five issues that cause divorce," says Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, a psychotherapist and author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage. "If people would look at their household more like a business, they would see that money can bring them lots of good stuff and not just argument after argument. If you approach your finances as a team, you will definitely become much closer," she says.
Seven Ways Money Can Enhance Your Relationship
Among the good things money can bring into a relationship are children, a home, a secure retirement and the ability to make charitable contributions. Here's a few ways managing your money as a team can lead to a stronger, more fulfilling relationship.
Establishing and accomplishing shared goals will bring you closer. Stacy Hefty and her husband David, both 33 and cofounders of Cornerstone Wealth Management in Auburn, Ind., make charitable giving the No. 2 priority in their financial planning--right behind taking care of their family. "It is important to Dave and me to show our children the importance of giving back to the community," Hefty says.
During each of the 11 years the couple has been married, they have given 10% of their gross income to nonprofits. At the beginning of the year they create a list of organizations they'd like to fund. Recently this has focused on food pantries and other poverty-related causes, including Boomerang Backpacks, which supplies low-income kids with healthy food for the weekend. "Seeing that you're making a difference underscores our shared values and just makes us happy. And when you're happy people, you're a happy couple," explains Hefty.
Understanding your partner's spending habits will also help you get to know one another better. Think that the eyes are a mirror to one's soul? Finances may be an even better bet. "Each of our saving and spending habits is a reflection of who we are, how we grew up and our general perception of life, says O'Neill.
"Money is what therapists call a 'family of origin' issue, and understanding where your partner's money attitudes come from means looking at how they grew up and how their parents treated money. If you can truly empathize, it will make the relationship stronger." For example, if your husband's tightwad ways are driving you crazy, you might come to peace with his re-using tea bags once you understand his fear of poverty stems from his spendthrift parents.
Delegating money tasks is another way to build trust and improve communication. While it is common for money to be a source of suspicion and resentment in relationships, it can also be a tool cementing the bonds of your relationship, says Mark Zaifman, a financial planner in Petaluma, Calif., who credits his wife's healthy money attitude to their successful 20-year marriage.
Often, Zaifman says, couples start out strong by delegating money management chores and promising to meet monthly to discuss budget and investments. Over time, however, most couples abandon the practice, and may later find themselves buried in debt and with few retirement reserves. Resentment and blame inevitably ensue.
To prevent this from happening Zaifman suggests eliminating assumptions about how the personal finance duties should be divvied up. "Sometimes the husband had been taking care of the investing for years until the wife has finally spoken up and said, 'I can do better!'" he says. "The husband doesn't realize that his wife was interested in investing or that she would be good at it."
Ultimately the goal is for each spouse to oversee a job, but both partners must agree on goals about saving, spending and returns on investments. If these numbers are not met, the couple needs to discuss why at regular money meetings. "You need someone looking over your shoulder," Zaifman says. "Money is emotionally charged and can bring a lot of anger. But it can be great at opening up a dialogue and improving communication."
Seven Ways Money Can Enhance Your Relationship