Traditional wisdom states money is among the leading causes of divorce, but experts say this often-quoted fact may be grounded more in myth or history than in modern reality.
Is Money Among Top Causes of Divorce?
Money may not be the marriage-buster it is commonly thought to be, Alison Lobron reports in the Jan. 18, 2009, Boston Globe article, “Does Money Really Wreck a Marriage?” Lobron contends that married couples can argue over issues about money but research shows divorce and money problems don’t have to go hand in hand.
“I’d heard for years this idea that money was the number one cause of divorce, but I’d never seen any empirical data,” Utah consumer economist Jan Andersen told Lobron. Andersen teaches workshops on personal finance at Utah State University. When researching evidence of divorce and money issues, he found “financial problems are a very poor predictor of divorce.”
Marriage and Money in Economic Downturns
As married couples face the economic downturn and money gets tight, it might seem like more couples would be divorcing over money. A recent study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers shows this may not be the case. In fact, 37 percent of members of the AAML report that they typically see a decline in the number of divorces during national economic downturns rather than an increase. Nineteen percent of members say hard economic times are increasing divorces.
Divorce and Money Linked by Law
So where does the “money is the most common cause of divorce” manta come from? Andersen says it may have become popular before no-fault divorce was created, Lobron explains. What used to be a legal argument supporting a claim for divorce has become an easy way to explain marriage trouble to others without placing blame. “It’s really easy to say, ‘We had money troubles,’ as opposed to, ‘I was a jerk in our marriage,’” says Andersen.
Marital Problems Can be More than Money
Lobron doesn’t deny that money trouble is a common marriage problem and experts agree that married couples can have radically different ideas about money. Certified financial planner Rick Fingerman told Lobron he often helps couples identify their financial goals and urges compromise when those goals differ. “Compromise is a great word, not just for money, but in a relationship,” Fingerman says.
While some arguments over money are due to differing goals or values, sometimes money fights are about other issues. Cambridge therapist Georgianna Collins tells Lobron many couples fight about money when the real issues are much deeper. Fights about money can be about who is in control, who does not feel appreciated and which partner’s values and goals are not being considered. “Money can be a source of stress,” Collins says, “But it’s usually not the main thing couples fight about.”
Divorce and money problems may seem like they are linked, but experts say married couples can resolve their issues about money. Couples with marriage trouble and fights about money can resolve marriage issues by working together to compromise to accommodate each other’s financial goals. Couples may need separate bank accounts to resolve marital problems. Couples who often fight over money may be hiding deeper issues that need to be addressed in marital counseling.
Why Marriage Rates are Decreasing
In the 1960’s, marriage rates were high, even among young people, as D. Dunn, E. Hammer, M. Lloyd, & W. Weiten reported in the 2009 publication of Psychology Applied to Modern Life. However, as I. Ellman noted in Family Law Quarterly in 2007, marriage rates have been declining for a significant amount of time and much of this decrease in marriage is likely due to social and cultural factors.
Acceptance of Singlehood and Cohabitation
In the past, being single was viewed negatively, but much of the aversion to singlehood has decreased in recent years, and people are waiting to get married. In fact, the median age at which people choose to marry has seen significant increases lately, according to Dunn, Hammer, Lloyd, and Weiten.
In addition to acceptance of singlehood, cohabitation has also become more popular, with a large number of couples choosing cohabitation as an alternative to marriage in recent years. Typically, couples feel that cohabitation will give them a glimpse of what marriage will be like and therefore increase the likelihood of marital success in the future. However, cohabitation has the reverse effect: it is actually associated with increased marital issues, as the authors have reported.
Increased Divorce Rates
Divorce has an impact on marriage rates as well; in modern society the stigma associated with divorce has decreased, and it has become substantially more common. Current studies show that approximately half of all marriages end in divorce, as Dunn, Hammer, Lloyd, and Weiten found. In addition to increased acceptance, changing gender roles and financial concerns can contribute to this high divorce rate.
It may be difficult to adjust the macro social forces that contribute to declining marriage rates, but divorce can be prevented. With most couples citing communication issues as the main contributor to divorce, it seems that learning to effectively communicate can result in relationship satisfaction and thereby prevent divorce.
Effective communication involves being open and honest and directly expressing needs. When dealing with conflict, it is imperative that a person avoids making generalized negative remarks about his or her partner’s personality; specifically stating what is bothersome is more effective according to Dunn, Hammer, Lloyd, and Weiten.
Improved communication and effective conflict management may lead to the relationship satisfaction that is necessary to prevent divorce. Perhaps a decrease in divorce rates will eventually lead to higher rates of marriage and a restoral of the traditional nuclear family.
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