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Financial disagreements are a strong predictor of divorce. These 2 tips can help you talk about money with your partner

Money may make some people green with envy—and some couples red with rage.

It’s often front and center of fights with partners. In a 2021 study, people in long-term relationships reported that finances were the biggest conflict in 40% of their disagreements. And a quarter of couples said money is their greatest relationship challenge in Fidelity’s 2024 Couples & Money study. Nearly half said they argue about it at least occasionally.

Such arguments have an even bigger impact on a marriage’s health when you’re legally sharing finances. “Money is not only a common cause of conflict, but money fights are qualitatively different from other types of arguments,” Megan McCoy, a certified financial therapist, marriage and family therapist, and assistant professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University, tells Fortune. “They tend to last longer and are less likely to get resolved, so they create tension leading to other arguments and spending less time together.”

Research finds that marital conflicts about money are more pervasive, problematic, and recurrent than other fights—despite the fact that couples typically work harder to solve their money problems. It makes sense then that financial disagreements between wives and husbands are the strongest disagreement type to predict divorce.

“Many fights in couples come from us feeling like our partner is putting our dreams at risk by overspending on things that we don’t value or not letting us spend in areas that we value,” McCoy says. “Some of us see money as a source of fun, while others see it as a source of safety and security, and that can cause issues.”

These issues can range from having different spending behaviors to our interpretation of money to financial infidelity, she adds. But, as with many things in marriage, more consistent communication and transparency can foster a happier relationship—and bank account.

Focus on honesty and positivity

Couples don’t talk about money enough, says McCoy. A study she conducted in 2021 found 83% of people hadn’t talked about money to anyone in an entire year. 

“Not talking about money is bad if there’s conflict because it can’t be resolved; it’s a missed opportunity to hear about each other’s values and goals,” she says. She refers to John Gottman’s Golden Ratio—the idea that we need to have five positive interactions for every negative interaction we have with a partner. Couples shouldn’t just minimize their negative money interactions, she says, but be more intentional about positive ones. 

This might look like a monthly household CFO meeting to discuss finances over wine in a goal-oriented and team building way. McCoy says she and her husband occasionally have a date night where they buy a Powerball ticket and discuss what they would do differently if money wasn’t an object.

But such conversations won’t be fruitful without honesty. Spouses lie in ways both big (i.e. hiding debt) and small (i.e. rounding down how much they spent on something), whether out of embarrassment or to avoid a fight, McCoy says. Financial infidelity can impact a marriage just as bad as physical infidelity, she adds. A BankRate study finds that 42% of American adults married or living with a partner have kept a financial secret from one another.

As a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFP), Monica Dwyer helps spouses understand and negotiate their divorce terms and the financial impacts. She tells Fortune she’s seen situations in which one spouse opens up a credit card and secretly runs up debt. That can be a shock during a divorce; depending on the state you’re in, divvying up assets also means divvying up debt. She’s also seen financial fraud, such as when one spouse gains access to the other’s account, draws assets down, and lies about it.

She says it’s important for couples to lay down basic agreements to alleviate future tension. Ask questions like: How do you feel about different types of debt? What debt do you feel comfortable taking on? “Most marriages end because of communication problems, but that can include financial communication problems and the couple not being on the same page,” she says.

Align your goals

Communicating can get rocky when you have different spending habits from your spouse. Spenders and savers are often attracted to one another, which McCoy says can become polarizing in a marriage as the spender continues to spend and the saver continues to save in reaction to each other.

“If you have one person who’s an egregious spender and the other person who’s a saver, that can be a major problem in terms of communication and the way they feel about each other,” Dwyer says, adding that she’s seen situations where one spouse has to bail the other out because they continually get into debt.

Couples need to align their financial goals from the get go, knowing where they’re at financially or whether they’ll be financially successful early on—”not just when you’re getting ready to retire because planning should happen way before then,” she says. “Be really clear about what it is that you want and have kind of similar goals in terms of what you’re going to save.”

That’s even if they’re small and tangible. “The more concrete you can make your financial goals, the better so you can really celebrate as a team that you accomplished them together,” McCoy says. For example, instead of saying you’ll buy a house one day, decide to save a certain amount in six months for that goal.

“There should be individual, couple, and family financial goals important to both partners so that you have skin in the game when it comes to making small sacrifices today,” she adds.

It’s important to track your spending together. That involves regularly checking credit score reports to ensure there aren’t errors and working towards improving it, McCoy says. She suggests finding spending apps to “make sure there are no leaks”—that you aren’t spending money on things unimportant to you.

And you can always meet with a professional, such as a CFP like Dwyer if you have the means. McCoy says XY Planning Network specializes in couples who are still building wealth and not yet rich, or you can contact a financial counselor who is typically more short-term with lower fees. But first, you’ll have to agree with your partner that it’s worth the money.

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