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Finances and divorce: It's not just about the money, honey

When you think about marital strife, a variety of issues may come to mind:  romance (or lack thereof), sex and infidelity, in-laws, how to raise the children. Surprisingly - or perhaps not - the number one issue that most couples fight about - and the one that most often is a good indication of an eventual divorce - is finances.

You and your spouse probably discussed a number of important matters before you decided to marry, to ensure you were in agreement on issues like religion and politics. For one reason or another, though, fewer individuals seem to seek out partners with similar views on spending. Yet the unhappy truth appears to be that when these financial dissimilarities come to light, for some couples, the disagreements are too great for the marriage to weather. This seems to hold true regardless of financial stability and income.

Opposites attract?

Research has shown that - despite the adage that "opposites attract" - you likely find yourself drawn to others who have similar viewpoints as you. The main exception to this, apparently, is when it comes to money, statistics indicate that, in all likelihood, your spouse has differing opinions and spending practices than you do. Unfortunately, this also is a highly probable source of potential conflict. In fact, experts have been able to use the frequency of financial-related arguments as one of the main predictors of whether a marriage will end.

One study decided to quantify that risk of divorce. A researcher analyzed responses from approximately 2,800 couples and asked each spouse separately about how often they disagreed and what they fought over. The most common topics for disagreements included:

  • Chores
  • In-laws
  • Spending time together
  • Sex
  • Money

The researcher analyzed the initial responses, then contacted the participants several years later to find out whether the couples had remained married. The results were clear:  disagreements over finances were by far the strongest indicators of likelihood of divorce. In fact, couples who argued over money at least once a week were more than 30 percent more likely to end their marriages than those who disagreed about finances only a few times a month.

Why?

Unfortunately, the answer as to why financial differences are more likely to lead to divorce remains unclear, varying based on which experts you talk to and what articles you read. It even may differ from marriage to marriage; you and your spouse could be having the same daily fights about spending habits as the couple next door, but for different underlying reasons. Some believe that it's not the money itself but rather what the spending symbolizes, whether that's about differing priorities, a lack of communication, or something else entirely.

Regardless, if you and your spouse find yourselves arguing more and more about finances, it may not be the money that's the real issue. Lack of common ground when it comes to core beliefs such as finances is, as evidenced, often an accurate predictor of whether a marriage will fall apart. It can be important to have a partner in life who shares your same views and values. When that lack of shared beliefs leads to constant disharmony, many couples decide that divorce is preferable to discord.

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