In my last post, I set forth some of the frightening statistics around money and relationships, including: 

  • Disagreements around money are the #1 cause of divorce in America
  • 12% of married couples have never had a conversation about their finances
  • More than 1/3 of Millennial couples fight about money weekly

But as sobering as these statistics are, highlighting a problem with no hint at a solution isn’t much help at all. In fact, as I laid out in The Laws of Wealth, attempting to “scare people straight” with dramatically negative statistics actually leads to an increase of the undesirable behavior. So, in an effort to be part of the solution, I want to share with you original research that I conducted into the five things that couples disagree upon when they experience conflict around money. It is my hope that as we are better able to map the landscape of love and money, we will increasingly have a scaffolding for having better conversations about where and why our attitudes may differ. 

This research is the product of a thorough literature review and thousands of survey responses by North Americans (specifically, Canadians and Americans) currently in relationships. The initial literature review led to the creation of a scientifically-informed survey and the five pillars you see below are a direct product of the survey responses we received. 

According to our respondents, the five most common sources of disagreement with their partners around money were: 

  • Communication – How do you tend to speak about money (direct vs. indirect)? 
  • Apprehension – How much do you worry about money (high vs low)? 
  • Function – Is money best used to enjoy today or secure tomorrow (today vs tomorrow)? 
  • Orientation – Is money best spent on yourself or others (self vs others)? 
  • Importance – How significant is money in your life (high vs low)? 

The benefit of defining these common points of friction is well summed up by Carl Jung in one of his most profound quotes: 

We tend to inherit our values and attitudes about money from our families and accept them uncritically. In the same way that a fish doesn’t know that it’s wet, we don’t understand that we have financial values that are different from others; we just experience what we’ve been taught as “the way it is.” 

It is only as we reify these five pillars of wealth attitudes and examine them relative to our partner’s values that we are able to say, “Huh, she thinks differently than I do and that’s OK.” Each of these five dimensions can be thought of as a scale, and high and low tendencies on all of the scales have both strengths and weaknesses. 

For instance, someone with a tendency to enjoy seizing the day with their money is likely to have a joyful existence but may be unprepared for the future. Conversely, someone with a “secure tomorrow” attitude may be well prepared for what may come but may miss opportunities that present themselves in a moment, never to return.

There are no rights or wrongs among these five pillars, only deeply-held values, each with its own set of pros and cons, which can and must be navigated as a couple. Now that you’re familiar at a high level with these five constructs, I’d like to challenge you to discuss them with your partner tonight at the dinner table or as you are unwinding from the day. Ask them to explain where they think they might fall along these five dimensions and then share your own thoughts on your attitudes. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers and no one is “good” or “bad” for where they sit along any of these five continua. 

Those of us aware of and interested in these five values are uniquely positioned to solve one of the biggest social problems in North America and it all starts with a simple conversation. I hope that you’ll take the first step today. 

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a registered investment advisor.

Tagged: Dr. Daniel Crosby, behavioral finance, Laws of Wealth