She likes to spend. He likes to save. He likes to live large. She likes to invest regularly.
What are the chances of these couples achieving financial independence or even staying together?

They are very low. That’s because when couples feud over money, the marriage or relationship tends to end up on the rocks.

Do You Understand Him or Her?

One of the more important factors in achieving financial independence is understanding your significant other. It doesn’t mean that you agree on everything related to money. However, it does mean you can discuss, agree and coordinate plans for achieving financial independence or any other short or long-term money goal.

This has been confirmed for me by the experiences of my own marriage of more than a quarter century. We began with assets of almost nothing, living in a rented apartment. My wife, the ever comely Suzanne Hall, and I needed a year or so of discussion—-or sometimes more than that—to agree on how we would reach common goals of saving, spending and investing.

And luckily for us, we were then and today not very different in how we view investing and spending. Therefore, given that both of us have worked hard and are sensible about financial matters, it wasn’t an impossible task to reach common goals, which included becoming owners instead of renters and achieving financial independence. Still, a lot of couples with persistent money problems can’t say the same. Indeed, many of them can’t rationally and calmly discuss money.

Why is money such a dangerous thing for so many couples?

Even the healthiest marriages can be endangered by money disputes, according to a recent study.

Money Is a Lethal Subject for Many

“Arguments about money are by far the top predictor of divorce,” warns Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and program director of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. And, she added, the danger of marriage money mayhem is widespread.

“Results revealed it didn’t matter how much you made or how much you were worth. Arguments about money are the top predictor for divorce because it happens at all levels,” Britt says.

Is it the “top predictor” of marriage on the rocks?

Sex, Money and Rock and Roll

“I don’t know if it’s sex, money or rock and roll that commonly breaks up a marriage, but certainly money is a big issue,” according to Ray Mignone, a Long Island adviser who has had to mediate money disputes among his clients.

“I had two clients where one was a saver and the other was a spender. I’ve had to work hard with these people to get things straightened out and still there are problems,” says Mignone, who has an office in Little Neck, Queens.

“Another time, in a second marriage, there were arguments about who paid for what and what asset belonged to who,” he says.

What Should Be Done?

Researchers and advisers say prepare for potential problems. Mignone recommends couples compare money philosophies before marrying or living together.

Britt tells would-be couples to seek a financial planner as part of premarital counseling, pull each other’s credit reports and talk through how to handle finances fairly for both individuals. Money is the most difficult marriage issue because disagreements often persist, she says.


It takes longer to recover from money arguments than any other kind of argument, Britt says. “Couples often use harsher language and the argument lasts longer.”

Britt conducted a study using data from some 4,500 couples as part of the National Survey of Families and Households. The study is entitled “Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce.”

A Many Layered Problem

Another professional adviser, Dr. Anne Brennan Malec, warns that, “as with sex, arguments about money are probably connected to underlying issues, such as trust and self-esteem.”

Malec, who has a group counseling and psychotherapy practice in Chicago, says “there are so many layers to this but much of it stems from the inability to communicate; it also comes from one spouse just expecting the other to take care of all money problems.”

The author of the book “Marriage in Modern Life: Why It Works, When It Works,” Malec says sex, poor communication and money are the chief reasons why marriages fail.

Malec offers these tips.

* Be partners in a common cause.

When one partner carries most of the financial burden, it can thrust that partner into an almost parental role over the other. This can affect other areas of the relationship and erode a marriage, creating resentment by each partner. Stay involved in your household’s finances. Understand what you can and cannot afford.

*Avoid financial infidelity

Every couple has to determine how their joint and individual expenses will be shared. Having an agreed-upon monthly budget helps minimize financial tension, and to spend more requires a good explanation.

*Be open to money issues beyond marriage

Most adults entering marriage have some degree of debt because of a college loan, child support, a medical history or other reasons. Ideally, you will have discussed and come to terms with a spouse’s debt before marriage. Also, consider the potential upsides to having a prenuptial agreement, especially when one or both of you come to the marriage with significant assets or debts.

Which Way Are We Going?

You may think you’re on the road to financial independence, taking sensible steps to build savings and investments and keep debts under control. However, your significant other may be planning to use another road. That lack of understanding could leave you hopelessly lost, with no hope of ever achieving financial independence. It could also destroy your marriage.
So it is never too soon for a couple to make sure they’re using the same financial road map.

Gregory Bresiger
Gregory Bresiger

Gregory Bresiger is an independent financial journalist from Queens, New York. His articles have appeared in publications such as Financial Planner Magazine and The New York Post. His latest book "MoneySense" is available on Amazon.

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