Financial stress a perennial reason couples split
It’s February already and in a lot of relationships that means money worries will be to the fore.
It’s well known amongst lawyers that returning to work after the holidays brings up dissatisfaction amongst couples.
The pressure of being forced together more often, especially with the added burden of home-schooling during the pandemic, has only increased tension for many couples.
The first working Monday of the year is even known as “Divorce Day” by some lawyers because of the increase in enquiries about separation after the stress of Christmas and the New Year.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll see a correlation between that stress and the bills coming in following holiday spending. A lot of it is financial stress.
Money stress has long been a source of relationship pressure.
“Arguments about money is by far the top predictor of divorce,’ said Kansas City associate professor Sonya Britt, from the university’s family studies and human services program, in 2013.
“It’s not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It’s money – for both men and women,”
Britt, who specialises in “financial conflict within relationships” ran a study of 4500 couples as part of America’s National Survey of Families and Households. It was published in Family Relations, a journal of applied family studies. The study accounted for income, net worth and debt and found “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 also found arguments about money took longer to resolve and recover from than other disagreements and used harsher language.
Her research seems to be backed up by people who sought information on relationship therapy in Australia.
An online survey of 2050 people who visited Relationships Australia’s website in late 2015 found nearly 85 per cent thought “financial problems were likely to push couples apart”. More than three quarters of the respondents were women.
This was a big increase on the last time the counselling provider surveyed web visitors on money issues, in 2011. Back then 71 per cent thought money dramas could split couples.
The survey drilled further into why money worries might lead to separation – and the answers were varied. But several of the main causes related to stress; 25 per cent thought financial problems caused “too much stress”, while another 15 per cent answered: “a lot of people can’t cope with the stress”. Nineteen per cent said money troubles “caused fights” and 12 per cent said such issues “caused blame”.
But the biggest single reason cited in the survey was the more diplomatic “people have different priorities/expectations”, which is another way of saying people disagree about money – presumably how much is enough, as well as how to spend and /or save it.
One finding in particular from the survey showed how mixed up couples are about money: around three quarters of female respondents reported that their male partner managed finances, exactly the reverse of how male respondents answered the question.
In other words, while everybody seems to think they are in charge of the money, nobody seems to be communicating well about finances.
This was backed up by a different set of questions Relationships Australia asked respondents in 2019 – the degree to which couples discussed finances.
Prior to making a commitment to their current of most recent partner, 56% of survey respondents reported they had not discussed how they would manage their couple finances if one of them no longer had an income.
A significant majority of women (74%) and men (69%) reported they had not discussed how they would divide their finances if their relationship ended.
“A mindful approach to money is without doubt a more successful one and a key to living mindfully is being able to accept reality for what it is – good, bad or neutral,” said Andrew Fleming, CEO/Founder of Financial Mindfulness.
It’s not a great leap to see that this can stretch to couples keeping secrets from each other about their finances.
“When we can accept reality, we can admit where we are at with money, not be so intimidated by it and we can discuss financial problems within relationships too.”
“That takes a lot of stress out of relationships, and everyone benefits from that.”