We spend a lot of time in this space talking about risk—identifying various threats to our finances and suggesting ways to minimize them. There’s market risk, inflation risk, longevity risk, sequence of returns risk, and more.

A recent study highlighted another risk that we don’t spend much time talking about—the risk of divorce.

The research, commissioned by Merrill Edge, identified a marital breakup as the top financial concern among wealthier adults. In its survey of the “mass affluent,” 71% of respondents said they are not confident they could achieve their financial goals if they got a divorce.

At first glance, they have good reason to worry. With a divorce, legal fees can total tens of thousands of dollars, previously shared expenses become individual expenses, and new expenses, such as childcare, often get added to the budget.  

The survey also cautioned that just 5% of respondents are “financially planning for the possibility” of a divorce.

What about the faith community?

When I first saw the Merrill Edge survey results, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about them. After all, SMI is a Christian organization, most of our members are Christians, and the Bible takes a strong stand against divorce.

But Christians are not immune to divorce. In fact, depending on who’s torturing the data, Christians are sometimes said to be just as likely, if not more likely, to divorce than others. The truth is more complicated and more optimistic. Believers who are active in their faith are less likely to divorce than others.

Still, how might a married believer respond to such research? Would it be good stewardship to prepare financially for divorce?

No.

With great hope that these words do not sound insensitive to anyone who is divorced, marriage is best thought of as a burn-the-ships type of commitment and our focus is best kept on proactively strengthening our marriages rather than preparing for their end.

Instead of worrying about the financial toll of a divorce, we’d be better off working on our financial teamwork since money is a common source of marital stress.

Lessons learned

My wife and I have been married for 18 years (in fact, today is our anniversary), and I’ll be the first to admit that I still have much to learn about what Mike Mason appropriately called The Mystery of Marriage. But the process of writing a book about Money & Marriage introduced me to two authors whose work continues to convict and motivate me.

Dr. John Gottman has been studying relationships for over 40 years. Some of the key points made in his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, include:

  • Disagreements aren’t to be avoided. Instead, “fighting—when it airs grievances and complaints—can be one of the healthiest things a couple can do for their relationship.” But it matters greatly how you fight. 
  • It’s okay to complain (“You overspent our clothing budget this month”). It’s not okay to criticize (“That was really careless of you”).
  • Be especially vigilant about avoiding contempt (“Don’t you ever think before you spend?”).
  • “You must have at least five times as many positive as negative moments together if your marriage is to be stable.”
  • “Most couples I’ve worked with over the years really wanted just two things from their marriage—love and respect.”

Does that last point sound familiar?

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:33

While husbands and wives both want to feel loved and respected, husbands especially want to feel respected and wives especially want to feel loved.

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs wrote an entire book on this topic. His concept, the “crazy cycle,” is particularly helpful and challenging. That’s what happens when a woman, without feeling loved, naturally responds to her husband without respect, and a man, without feeling respected, naturally responds to his wife without love.

How to break out of it? Eggerichs says a husband is called to love his wife even when she’s being disrespectful and a wife is called to respect her husband even when he’s being unloving. That can be amazingly difficult, and even more amazingly powerful.

Husbands, one way to apply this to your finances is to ask your wife what you do, financially speaking, that makes her feel especially loved. And wives, ask your husband what you do, financially speaking, that makes him feel especially respected. The answers will help both of you use money in ways that further strengthen your marriage.

What are your thoughts on this topic?