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?

If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe to this blog. Twice a week, you’ll receive ideas and encouragement for using money well.

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2 Responses to An Essential Formula For a Financially Healthy Marriage

  1. Al October 18, 2022 at 3:02 PM #

    It would be helpful if Gottman would define what he means by fight. My wife and I were married for 52 years before she died last year. I believe I can say we never had a fight, as I define the word. Did we have disagreements? Absolutely! Did we have arguments where the discussion got a bit tense? A (very) few times. But did we have “fights” where each was yelling to be heard over the other? Did we ever say belittling comments to one another because we couldn’t rationally defend our position in the heat of the moment? Did we ever come to blows either physically or verbally? Not once!

    So, what do you understand Gottman to mean by “fight”?

    • Matt Bell October 18, 2022 at 3:08 PM #

      Al, I’m so sorry for your loss. A 52-year marriage is a wonderful legacy, and I’m sure her passing leaves an unimaginable void.

      I’m not sure that he thoroughly defined it, but he speaks strongly against using words of contempt in a marriage, so I think I’m on safe ground in assuming what he meant is what most people would think of as a strong disagreement. He also says it’s okay to complain, but not to criticize, keeping the focus on the behavior and not on the person. So again, he’s careful to teach a way of disagreeing that doesn’t harm either person in any way.

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