Lori R. Holyfield Attorney at Law

An Advocate Through Life's Transitions

Money Matters in Marriage

One of the big issues in probably 75% of the divorces I see is disagreement and frustration between the spouses about money.  Whether one spouse is an overspender, or someone is overly conservative financially, one spouse is hiding money from the other, or somebody is racking up debt without the other's knowledge - whatever it is, there is an intentional or unintentional breakdown in communication about finances.  

Most marriages have a "spender spouse" and a "saver" spouse.  When one spouse is much more conservative with money than the other, a lot of tension can result.  The spender spouse can feel like the saver spouse is trying to parent or control the spender spouse, and the saver spouse can feel a profound sense that the spender spouse doesn't love the saver spouse or care enough about the future or the family to be careful with money.  

If the spender spouse has an avoidant conflict style, this may result in the spender spouse opening up credit accounts and racking up debt behind the other spouse's back.  Similarly, the saver spouse will sometimes open up a separate secret savings account so that s/he feels in control of at least some of the money.  When this kind of covert behavior is discovered, the betrayal of trust can be devastating to the marriage. 

In a large number of cases, talking about money before it gets too far, and seeking marital counseling if simple talking isn't effective, could improve or even save a marriage.  And establishing good communication habits, financial and otherwise, before marriage will reduce the chances of a divorce down the road.  

It's hard to talk about money.  I get it, I really do.  Money is intensely personal and you don't want to feel like you're accusing your spouse of anything.  But it's MUCH better to talk about problems early on than to stew about conflict until the pressure cooker explodes.  

My advice is to create norms for talking about money with your significant other very early in the relationship.  Maybe have a short weekly financial meeting - what did we spend, what are our goals, did all the bills get paid this week?  I've also seen couples agree not to spend over a certain dollar amount - say $100 - without discussing with the other spouse here.  More important than setting up rules is actually just having the conversation.  An ounce of prevention here is truly worth a pound of cure. 

Read Dave Ramsey's tips on financial communication and joint goal-setting here.


Lori R. Holyfield focuses her practice in divorce and family law and serves Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette Counties in southwest Tennessee.

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