Is money pulling your marriage apart?

@Money September 9, 2011: 9:59 AM ET

(MONEY Magazine) -- With the economy still sputtering, you and your spouse may have found your money frustrations with each other worsening. In a recent American Express poll, 61% of couples said discussions of household finances were turning to arguments. A year ago it was 45%.

Unfortunately, "money conflicts tend to be more negative than other kinds of fights," says Lauren Papp, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who's done research on the topic.

And recent studies show a correlation between money disputes and marital discontent. So how do you tell if yours are divisive or just routine?

Signs of trouble

You argue often and intensely.

In an analysis of 4,500 couples, Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University found that those who disagreed about money once a week were twice as likely to divorce as those who differed less than once a month.

Controlling your debt

Also a red flag, says Barbara Nusbaum, a New York psychologist specializing in money: You have the same fight again and again.

The disputes bleed over.

You have reason for concern if the negativity spreads, the battles cause you to withdraw from each other (particularly common after money fights, according to a study in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues), or you are prevented from making financial progress.

Debt, savings, or spending is the big issue.

These topics are particularly corrosive. Dew found that a couple with $10,000 in debt and no savings is twice as likely to divorce as a couple with no debt and $10,000 in savings.

Other research found greater marital dissatisfaction when one spouse disapproves of how the other handles money.

How to quell the yelling

Attack the financial issue.

For example, set up automatic transfers to an IRA to boost savings or use the Debt Reduction Planner at to create a pay-down plan for IOUs.

Can't work it out on your own? A nonprofit credit counselor ( can help with debt.

For other issues, many fee-only financial planners ( will do one-time consults; prices run up to $300 an hour.

Attack the relationship issue.

Often money fights are about more than just money, notes Nusbaum. They're about differences in what money means to you. Examples include: status, security, or control.

Send The Help Desk your questions about money conflicts.

In such cases, a marital education program like PREP or PAIRS might help. These workshops, usually less than $30, teach conflict resolution.

Couples therapy is another option, though costlier at $60 to $250 a session. For best results, seek a counselor with money expertise (search and  To top of page

Help! We need a makeover
Young dad, $15,000 in credit card debt
Readers' Choice

Carlos Rodriguez is trying to rid himself of $15,000 in credit card debt, while paying his mortgage and saving for his son's college education.

$400,000 portfolio, too many holdings
Readers' Choice

Susan Carson and Laura DeLallo make $225,000 and have half a million in retirement savings, but their sprawling portfolios is proving hard to manage.

Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.80%3.88%
15 yr fixed3.20%3.23%
5/1 ARM3.84%3.88%
30 yr refi3.82%3.93%
15 yr refi3.20%3.23%
Rate data provided
View rates in your area
Find personalized rates:
  • -->

    Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.