It may be a well-known fact, but the number one issue couples fight most about is money.
According to a recent survey by the American Institute of CPAs, money topped the list as the most common cause of fights between married or cohabiting couples. In a poll of over 1,000 Americans, it was found that on average, couples fight three times a month on financial issues.
Another study found even more dire results: the prevalence of money fights between married couples are a predictor of divorce rates.
In 2012, Kansas State University researcher Sonya Britt concluded her study “Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce,” and found that:
- Money fights are the top predictor of divorce, ranking more significant than parenting stresses, sex, and even relationships with in-laws.
- Not only that, money-centric arguments tend to have a deep and long-lasting impact that reaches farther than other categories of marital disagreement.
“It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, but when [couples] were first together and already arguing about money, there is a good chance they are going to have poor relationship satisfaction,” says Britt.
According to the AICPAs, these are the most common money issues in a marriage:
- Differing opinions of needs versus wants (58%)
- Unexpected expenses (49%)
- Insufficient savings (32%)
Julia Chung, a Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Life Underwriter, says money issues often result from two individuals within a relationship that view money in entirely different ways.
“Everyone has their own personal philosophy on money, and it’s often related to childhood and early-adulthood experiences. Depending on who you are, money can be a tool used to further your own goals, a source of emotional comfort or stress, or a measuring stick that you use to judge your own self-worth. Money philosophies can be incredibly complex,” explains Chung.
“Individuals who tie money to comfort or love may be married to individuals who see money as a tool. Or, individuals who see money and what it can purchase as a way to express their self-worth, may be married to individuals who see money as a source of intense stress.”
So how can couples stop their financial bickering? There is no magic fix-all; according to experts, the key is communication.
Bridge your differences
Couples can begin to bridge their differences by having a financial discussion on their personal philosophies to create transparency within their relationship, even if they do have conflicting money mindsets.
“As a result of unique background and experiences, you could see a frugal saver paired with someone who applies a “you only live once” philosophy to money. While it may be impossible to bridge the behavioral gap between styles, an understanding of your partner’s approach may help mitigate the effects of that gap,” says JJ Montanaro, a USAA Certified Financial Planner.
Make a recurring date to talk
Talking about money may not seem like much, but sitting down to discuss your financial goals and concerns with your spouse can help the both of you get on the same page and build your unity as a team. “It’s as simple as adding a reoccurring money date or money discussion on your calendar. Couples should sit down together and create specific realistic financial goals and build their budget around those goals. When you tie your savings to a specific goal that you both want to achieve, then this gives purpose and motivation for saving.”
According to Financial Planner Ann Arceo, who has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, financial infidelity is the most dangerous issue for couples, and honesty is important. “Financial infidelity happens when one partner is making financial moves in secrecy that could ruin the household finances. The basis for any strong marriage is trust, and financial infidelity destroys trust. The most common situation I’ve seen working with couples is where one partner is hiding credit card purchases and debt,” says Arceo.
It can be difficult to be honest with a significant other who is stubborn and hard-headed and refuses to budge on their money views. In order for a couple to strengthen their relationship based on a platform of honesty, both parties should enter the discussion with the goal of listening to the other and coming to a consensus about important financial decisions.
It’s about behavior
Arceo says we all go into relationships with our own financial issues, and with our partners added to the mix, things are bound to escalate. Andrea Travillian, a financial coach featured on Refinery29 as well as Women’s Health, says that interestingly enough, the cause of financial matters is not numbers-based, but rather, psychologically-based.
“Couples have issues with money and marriage because money is typically not about the math. It is typically more about behaviors, beliefs and how they were raised. Most people are not even aware of these issues impacting their money. With marriage, you are adding another set of beliefs to the financial equation. Now add the need to communicate, and you have some big issues,” cites Travillian.
Though each half may have differing personal feelings about money and how it should be used, taking the time to listen to and identify with a partner’s beliefs can improve the relationship.
Katherine covers the issues that are most relevant to younger adults, including topics such as college finances, student debt, and consumer spending. She has contributed to other web publications such as Business Insider and Investopedia.