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The Dirty Money Conversation: Marital Financial Failures That Cause Divorce

02/20/2015 01:27 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images

For some reason, talking about money can feel dirty. People avoid it, especially in romantic relationships because it can lead to arguments. One of the benefits of marriage is the financial advantage of two incomes and shared expenses. When couples cannot have the "dirty money" talk, their marriage suffers, resentment and distrust builds and the relationship fails.

Here are the three types of relationship "money" failures that I frequently see in my office:

One spouse handles money, the other hides from it

Usually there is one partner who knows more about the finances than the other. But in cases where the break-down of the marriage is tied to finances, it is very common to have one spouse know everything about the finances, while the other is absolutely clueless.

Maybe this starts because they decide to rely on her accounting degree or his financial savvy. Or maybe the couple is trying to avoid arguments that go with budgeting and planning. The result is that one spouse retreats from the finances and the other has free reign. This enables one spouse to make unilateral decisions that may not be in both of their interests.

Staying blind to the finances may have been inadvertent or willful, but it leads to the inability to make joint financial decisions, and ultimately can doom a marriage. Not to mention that a divorce is a bad time to try and catch up with the marital finances, particularly if one spouse was planning to get divorced for months or years.

One spouse works, one stays home

One common situation is where one of the spouses stops working, putting pressure on the other spouse to shoulder the financial burden alone. This usually happens when one spouse, usually the wife, stays home to take care of a child. The husband can get resentful because the tangible benefits of having a wife at home can get lost in the face of mounting monthly bills.

Not to mention, men encounter women who work and have kids -- and that can really undercut the roll of the spouse who is at home. Many times, the husband takes his wife's efforts in the home for granted, and she in turn gets resentful because she feels unappreciated.

Different value attitudes towards money

Some couples end up in divorce court because they simply value or view money differently. Maybe it is cultural or how they were raised, but if one spouse is pinching pennies and the other spends hundreds on the latest iPhone or a new pair of shoes without batting an eye, that can signal bigger problems. Ultimately, one spouse may be more inclined to compromise their position, and that can create some bad tensions in the marriage.

For example, "Jill" was a prominent physician. Jill's husband Dave was also a medical doctor, yet during the marriage Jill paid the bills, invested in college plans and retirement accounts, and general savings. Meanwhile, Dave spent money freely, arguing with Jill until she felt worn down and would agree to the purchase expensive things (like a new car every year). Jill's view of money was tied to how hard she worked for every dollar, but Dave's was a view of valuing the things they could afford and keeping up with their friends. In the end, when Jill drew the line about savings, the marriage imploded.

Marriage is a partnership, and that includes an element of being a financial partnership too. If one person feels they are working and saving in ways that the other person is not, resentment will build. If you cannot talk about the marital finances then you are missing out on one of the reasons to get married in the first place.

Tips for having a "dirty money" conversation:

• Set a budget for the household and figure out who contributes to each expense
• Use apps and programs to help set financial goals (I like Mint.com)
• Allow yourself and your partner to have a separate account - everyone needs a certain level of independence and this should strengthen the relationship, not undermine it
• Have a monthly or quarterly "meeting"
• Figure out what is important for each person and how common goals can be met. Determine how to talk about finances in a way that is productive to enable future conversations.


How do you and your spouse talk about money? What are some money mistakes you and your ex- made? Join the conversation in the comments. This blog was originally published on The Divorce Artist.