Is Money The Cause of Marital Problems? Or a Symptom?

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Wed, Jan 14 - 9:43 am EDT | 6 years ago by
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In this economy, it seems we hear a more about how money problems and stress related to finances is causing many divorces. But what if money isn’t the cause of marital problems? What if financial issues in a household are reflections of the problems that already exist? Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Corey Donaldson, who is associated with The Freedom Academy and the author of Don’t You Dare Get Divorced Until You Read This. Donaldson says that your relationship with money is actually a reflection of your relationship with your spouse.

“If you are taking money for granted,” Donaldson says, “chances are that you are taking your partner for granted. If you are behaving recklessly with money, it’s likely that you are behaving recklessly in the relationship.” He continues: “When people blame money for what’s going on, they aren’t looking at the root. Most of the time the money situation is a reflection of how they are treating each other. Some attitude is being played out.”

Right now, especially, Donaldson says that he has seen an increase in people who are concerned about both their finances and their relationships. “In this economy, a lot of people are under pressure. The money situation you are in now, though, is a symptom of greater issues.”

I find this assertion intriguing. Donaldson didn’t say this, but after going to bed thinking about the current economic situation and marriage relationships, I wondered if the lack of planning and preparation some had prior to the financial crisis is a reflection of a lack of priorities and discipline (i.e. checking selfish impulses) in relationships. Obviously, though, there are some who have experienced financial devastation, even with proper preparation and despite making all the “right” choices. And I marvel how that seems to be the case in some marriages as well.

But back to the interview.

Donaldson insists that a person’s character can be completed described by his or her relationship with money. (And with sex — but that’s another subject in his book. He says that nearly everything he has discovered about sex can be substituted with money.) “How someone relates to money, and the stories they tell about their interactions with money, are very personal. If you want to know the character of someone, how they deal with money is a good way to find out. It’s a great way to get to know each other before you get married.”

So, is change possible? Donaldson says that — with money and with your relationship — the number one rule is that “No one will change for another person. People don’t even change financially destructive behaviors for other people. If they do change, it’s because they themselves are undergoing an evolution. We can change, but we do it for ourselves and because we are moving forward.”

“If someone is financially reckless,” Donaldson continues, “it represents an attitude that he or she has toward you as well. Nothing you say or do can change that, with finances or with the relationship. That person has to decide to make the changes on their own.”

I think that Donaldson has an interesting point. Our dealings with money are, in many ways, reflections of our personalities and our overall priorities. If we want better finances, we get information — maybe even professional help — and take steps to change how we operate in terms of money. And if we want a better relationships with our partners, we try to talk about it and may even undergo counseling to help us make the appropriate changes. But the bottom line is this: No one can “make” us change our behaviors. Whether it has to do with money or love, unless I decide I want to do something differently, I’ll stay in the same course.

What do you think? Is a tough money situation the root of marital problems? Or is it just a symptom of problems that already exist in the relationship?

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  • Vertical Insight

    Nice piece. Thanks for the tweet message. I’m not currently in a relationship, but I agree most problems have some underlying root cause from the relationship itself.

    I’m still praying for the Lord to send me the man I’m meant to be with. And I’ll certainly keep the money checking tip in mind when I meet new people. I don’t want to be taken for granted, so I’m glad that tidbit was included in your post. :)


  • miranda

    Thanks for stopping by, Vertical Insight! Good luck with your future relationships. And I guess it’s a good idea to talk finances before you make the final decisions. While you don’t have to be on exactly the same page, it probably helps if you have similar money handling styles and goals.

  • Vertical Insight

    I completely agree! I’ve been in relationships before where the guy didn’t even balance his checkbook. Needless to say, the account was consantly under NSF attack.

    I was young though, and fortunately we didn’t get married. I can say without a doubt, nothing turns me on more than a man who is financially sound, thankful to be so, and doesn’t flaunt his money or possessions.


    I understand how this sort of thing could weigh on a relationship. I’m very particular about the way I deal with money.

    I like to have savings, I like to make sure my bills are always paid, and I run across so many people who are not like that. They will spend their account down to the last .50 cents.

    I don’t think I could ever stand being in any type of sharing relationship with that type of person honestly.

  • miranda

    You make an excellent point. Money compatibility can be an important component of a health marriage. And I think that the way you are careful to take care of all your obligations means that you might be scrupulous about helping take care of your partner’s needs.

  • Peter

    I think money can bring stress upon the relationship, but strong relationships can weather the problems without too many problems.

    More often the case I think money problems will amplify existing problems in the marriage. If you have a lack of communication, money problems will only amplify that problem. Incompatible on money issues? Money problems will amplify the problem.

    I think its important to go through some sort of pre-marriage counseling – and to talk with each other plainly about a lot of topics including money, sex, family, and other things. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a situation where you’ll have to deal with these issues.

  • miranda

    Thanks for your insight, Peter. I think that you make a good point — there are a lot of “home” issues that will have bearing on the relationship — money is just one. And when stress comes up, all the issues you have are, indeed, amplified. Proper communication, and a desire to make things work, go a long way in any relationship.

  • Magali

    Most people don’t receive much in the way of financial literacy when they’re in school so that may be the root problem. Maybe that’s why the country is in a fiscal crisis.

  • James

    I heard that the number one reason for divorce is a dispute over money. It’s sad, but I think Money has a lot to do with relationships.

    This is a very interesting piece. I’ll have to read the part of the book about sex and money. It all sounds very interesting.

  • miranda

    I think both Magali and James make excellent points. Perhaps if we knew better how to handle money, we wouldn’t be in positions where we are stressed about it. And, of course, disputes over money can lead to disputes over other things — and vice versa.

  • TStrump

    It’s true that you can’t ‘make’ someone change.
    I tried to help a family member out with their finances by providing a budget, etc., but at the end of they day, they didn’t think they had a spending problem.
    Oh well.

  • Miranda

    You’re right, TStrump. Someone first has to admit that there is problem to change if they are actually going to improve their finances — and any area of their lives.

  • Vertical Insight

    TS – I totally hear ya. I’ve attemped helping the same friend plan a budget, stick to it, save and eventually invest in a small condo purchase for, gosh . . . at least six years. She has never once listened and has moved in and out of her mother and step-father’s small apartment at least once (if not twice) a year. She’s wasted thousands upon thousands on exorbitant rental costs.

    She finds herself with no money in the event that she’s downsized from a position. And not once has she even tried over the years to be financially more responsible by doing things a bit differently. Needless to say, if she didn’t have her parents to live with I don’t know that she’d have a place to rest her head.

    You would think after two years of that type of life, you’d want something better?

  • Miranda

    Actually, the sad thing is that she is probably blaming all sorts of things for her situation (if she doesn’t like it). For a while, my sister was in the “If only this would happen, then everything would be great…” frame of mind with money. It was never her fault. She always blamed external circumstances and never saw anything wrong with her decisions. It’s about taking ownership of your life and finances and relationships and doing what YOU can to improve the situation.

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  • Green Panda

    I think money is a symptom of a bigger problem. When I listen to Dave Ramsey’s show sometimes a spouse is not on board with the program and they want Dave to give them a formula to fix it. He doesn’t because it doesn’t work. Someone has to be sick and tired of hat they are currently doing to change.

    I was sick and tired and I changed. I tried writing budgets for family members, sharing books I read, and offered suggestion that worked for me to no avail.

  • bzymom65

    Thanks for the great info in this article. Reading the comments was very helpful to me as well. I see myself in several comments. I never thought about not being able to help someone change in this area… that they have to want it for themselves. This makes so much sense. It’s like anything else, sex, food, drugs we have to want to change our habits.

  • miranda

    Thanks for sharing, Green Panda and bzymom65! I agree that the WANT for change is most important, in just about any area of life that needs improvement. And we certainly can’t force others to do what we think they should be doing — even if it would be better for them.

  • Slinky

    Arguments about money are a symptom of a lack of communication and compromise. Ideally, each couple should sit down, talk about how they spend, save, invest etc. and either agree on a joint plan or agree to each manage their own separately. If the conversation ends in fighting, it’s not because they’re discussing money. There’s an underlying issue like trust or something causing the issues.

  • miranda

    Great point, Slinky! Really, this sort of thing needs to be regularly addressed. If you can’t do so civilly, there’s probably something else going on.

  • Will

    If a person spends money to replace a hole in their heart, it will destroy them. If the person who is doing the spending to fill their broken heart is married, then the marriage will in fact totally and completely fail.

  • John Abad

    yeaa, hey hehe, I think like some others who posted here, that money is not the esential problem! umm I think its the capacity to love of the people and if they put that potential in effect. Too many couples, especially women focus on money and make it a requirement for happiness and partner selection criteria. Its ridiculous but hey, they will never understand true happiness that way, which I have seen in poorer people more than rich people. Luckily we can change, so, people, choose a vocation with heart and not so much money and in relationships, realize that many years ago, many couples did without the stuff we had today that enslave us and loved each other anyways. Money doesnt break relationships, egoism does, reflect and if money matters that much to you and you are not poor, i suggest beginning a spiritual path, peace! g’luck

  • Seth Shoultes

    Very Nice! I have also noticed that money seems to be the root of most relationship problems nowadays, especially in such a strained economy.

    Also, at first I didn’t see the link to Mr. Donaldson’s website anywhere. So I did a search on Google and found it. In the meantime I came and read the article again and noticed the URL in the first paragraph. I must be blind or something.

    Any ways thanks for sharing. Here is the link to his site just in case anyone else is as blind as me ;-)


    Seth Shoultes

  • Tiguan09

    I won’t be a hypocrite! I admit that we’re one of the millions of couples out there having marital problems because of money. If one is not contributing enough money to the becomes a big issue. Arguments arise…both become depressed and eventually it leads to marital failure and downfall. My only advice to those entering this union called “marriage.” Is to become ready to be faced with imperfections in the union. All couples have problems. It’s just sad that “money problems” and “stress” related to finances can really lead to divorce. It can strain a relationship and it can really ruin a good marriage and you will really forget that you once were a happy couple. Based from my experience it’s acceptance. Accepting your partner’s imperfections with related matters. When I mean should be done whole-heartedly not just working it out for the sake of saving the marriage and being afraid to be alone once again…

  • reroy costanza

    My husband has revealed his true self through money. He took both our large inheritances, ran a failing business for 5 years, and insisted I help him make it successful. all while I birthed our 2 young children. Now, we’re almost bankrupt adn he wants to sell the house and move our family to who knows where so he can become a medical doctor. Should I agree? I really don’t trust his financial decisions…advice?