Divorce and Dollars: How Overspending Can Destroy a Marriage

According to a study done by SunTrust Bank, finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships—and, no doubt, a major factor in divorce. Many of these marriages could be saved if only both people in the relationship could work together to manage their money.

But the sad truth is that many couples fall prey to the spending trap that is so entrenched in American culture. They buy without thinking—large homes with extra space they don’t need, luxury cars, exotic vacations, expensive furniture, more toys for the kids…Arguments can ensue and tension can grow as the debt starts mounting and their finances spiral out of control.

I know this couple who went from happy to divorced in the span of just three years due to overspending. When I met them, they were very happy:They laughed a lot and were very affectionate to one another. At the time, they lived in a modest home in a small town in the Midwest.They eventually moved to a large city where the husband started a new job. His new employment paid him a lot more so the couple bought a large home in an upscale neighborhood. They also bought two new cars.This once modest couple continued to live a life of luxury of expensive dinners out and multiple trips to places like Hawaii and Europe. In the process, they began to rack up significant credit card debt. The two began to fight, blaming each other for the extra bills they couldn’t pay. Tension mounted and they eventually agreed to separate. Months later, they decided to divorce and, ironically, the house was sold in the process.

From an outsider looking in, this couple would still be married today had they not upgraded their lifestyle. If they had invested the money instead,they could have kept their marriage the priority over their purchases. Plus, they would have been much more secure financially,reducing outside stress in the relationship.

What’s sad is that this is not an isolated event. We all know at least one couple who has fought over money, with some even divorcing because of it.It’s not just an argument over money, per say, but rather the lack of it. Not having enough money to pay the essentials can cause overwhelming stress and anxiety. Likewise, having enough money helps a couple feel relaxed and have more fun, creating a stronger bond between the two. A quote from the article “Sometimes Lack of Money is the Root of Relationship Evil”, published in Psychology Today and written by Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera Ph.D.,explains:“When couples feel good about their finances, they feel good about themselves and their marriage. While it does not guarantee happiness,not having money, or more precisely enough money, can strain a relationship to its breaking point.”

Not having enough money can be particularly stressful if there is only one spouse working. It can make this sole bread winner feel resentful that their partner isn’t contributing financially to the household.It can make him or her feel like a failure and cause relentless worry that they may not be able to successfully provide for their family.It can also make the working spouse feel stuck in a job they don’t like and that any dreams they had of doing something else in life are no longer an option. And if it’s the non-working spouse who is over-spending, it’s a double whammy. The working spouse can feel like they are being taken for granted and that their partner is unappreciative, spoiled, and even lazy.

When there is just one person in the relationship who overspends, the spender needs to get help before it causes a rift in the marriage that can’t be undone. Sometimes people spend to fulfill something that’s missing in their lives, like a spiritual foundation or they’re bored or lonely.Getting to the root of the problem can help. If you’re the saver,you’ll need to talk to your partner asap and see if you can figure it out together. There are a lot of great books on the topic, as well as articles like “6 Tips to Mange Debt and Save Your Marriage” (from bankrate.com). If they still seem reluctant to change their ways, you might need the help of a counselor.

I urge all couples to sit down and come up with what I call a lifestyle plan together. A lifestyle plan is hashing out where and how you want to live, your wants and needs, and how you’re going to pay for it, as well as how you’re going to fund your life in the future. It’s better than a budget because it includes your hopes and dreams for now and in the future. You and your spouse can feel like you’re living a good life instead of simply sacrificing. (I’ll be posting more on this in the future.) Not discussing a lifestyle plan and taking action can cause a whole realm of negative emotions in at least one of the individuals in a relationship. Feelings of bitterness, frustration and stress are what lead to the fights and if nothing is done, a wedge will manifest and grow between the two. Divorces don’t happen overnight and for no reason. They come about from too many negative feelings about the relationship and not enough positive ones. Too little money for too long will eventually kill a relationship; having enough can give the relationship room to grow and thrive.

It’s heartbreaking to see families ripped apart over the purchasing of“stuff” and “things” that are often non-essential. Most businesses don’t care if the purchasing of their goods contributes to the destruction of marriages and children growing up in broken homes—and, in a way, it’s not their responsibility anyway. It’s up to each couple to put themselves and their families first. A new car,an upgraded cell phone or a large home may seem glamorous at the time but the price paid in the end could be much greater than the dollars and cents:)