An Essential Formula For a Financially Healthy Marriage

Money is one of the prime sources of conflict in marriage. However, conflict avoidance isn’t the route to a happy marriage.

In fact, John Gottman, a psychologist who has devoted over two decades to studying what makes for a healthy marriage, believes that “fighting—when it airs grievances and complaints—can be one of the healthiest things a couple can do for their relationship.”  They key has to do with how you fight.

More Positives Than Negatives

As he writes in his book, “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail,” one of Gottman’s most important findings can be boiled down to a simple formula: “You must have at least five times as many positive as negative moments together if your marriage is to be stable.”

So, the next time your spouse does something financially that bothers you, try opening up the conversation with some positives.

If he shows up with a new iPad that you didn’t discuss buying, tell him how much you appreciate how hard he works and how much you want him to have things he enjoys, AND (a better transition word than “but”) you would feel much better about the family’s finances if you had a plan for such purchases.

For example, you could each have certain budgeted amounts you could spend as you’d like to each month – amounts that are part of a bigger plan that ensures you’ll still be able to meet all of the family’s expenses and accomplish other goals. He can have his iPad, but it might require that he save his allocations for a few months before making the purchase.

Beyond Money and Marriage

Of course, Gottman’s formula doesn’t just apply to how we manage money in marriage. It applies to all aspects of our relationship with our spouse, and even our relationships with others such as friends and co-workers.

As you think about your most important relationships, how well are you following the five-positives-to-one-negative formula?

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2 Responses to An Essential Formula For a Financially Healthy Marriage

  1. Matt Bell August 23, 2011 at 3:16 PM #

    Deborah, it sounds like your husband needs some strong accountability. Set a goal that you’re both excited about. Then switch to debt cards or even cash (no credit cards for this next season), create a Cash Flow Plan (see the resources tab of my site) and track your spending daily and in a way that you both see what was spent every day. That could be via a paper and pencil system or an electronic system like Mint.com.

    I would hope that the combination of a goal you’re both excited about (so that living within your means isn’t the main goal, but living within your means is the critical step toward the goal) and having daily accountability of what was spent may help.

  2. Deborah August 23, 2011 at 8:51 AM #

    I agree with what you have to say and how to handle the situation BUT what if your husband has his own credit card (which he has cut up at least 3 times in the last 5 years vowing that he will never use it again) and charges beyond what he can pay back. This not only affects the marriage relationship but the credit of the whole family.