It is often said that the root cause of most divorces is money. Countless surveys and studies have shown that when people who are divorcing or facing marital trouble are asked what the problem in their relationship is, it’s money, more often than anything else.
I’d argue that money problems are merely the surface of a much deeper problem: honesty.
I’ve seen enough “money problems” in my own marriage and in the marriages of others to know that the real root of money problems is a lack of honesty.
A person is feeling emotionally or sexually unfulfilled at home, so rather than being honest about it, that person cheats. A person spends more than they should, so rather than being honest about it, that person shifts money around to cover the mistake. A person is struggling to overcome a personal failing or an addiction, but rather than being honest about it, that person hides the evidence.
Money comes up so often in marital failings because it’s the kind of mistake where the paper trail happens to be thick and the poor choices happen to have a pretty strong impact on the life of the other person.
The real root cause of all of it, though, is honest.
I can give you the recipe for a truly successful relationship, right here, right now. It’s 100% total honesty. If you make a mistake of any kind, you simply admit it to your partner as soon as you realize it. If you’re having a discussion about an issue and you’re feeling opposed to the plan that’s out there, you explain exactly why with as much openness as possible. If you’re struggling with an internal problem, you lay the details of that internal problem out there for both of you to see.
It sounds very straightforward, but in real life, that level of honesty is extremely hard. It’s hard to admit personal failings. It’s hard to criticize someone you love and even harder to accept criticism from someone you love. It is extremely hard to admit that you don’t have the answer and that you’re feeling weak in any way.
I try to do this with Sarah, and I fully admit that I often fail at achieving it. However, I’ve seen that time and time again, our marriage works far better over the long run the closer I come to that ideal. The times when we have run into trouble in our years of marriage is when we have both failed in some way to come close to that level of honesty. Often, it’s in the form of one of us making a mistake of some kind and the other person not being fully honest in response to it.
It can be hard to even try. When you’re striving to be completely honest with someone else, you can feel extremely vulnerable. We often wear a lot of armor around the inner truths of our lives, and shedding that armor is scary.
It’s also incredibly rewarding, particularly over the long haul.
If you’re finding a discussion about money to be difficult with your spouse, start by looking at yourself. In what parts of your life are you not being fully honest with your partner? Where are you holding back things about your life or criticizing things that you’re also guilty of?
Rather than focusing on the money conflict head-on, focus instead on laying those things on the table, one at a time. Open up. Don’t talk about their mistakes. Talk about what you’ve done and what you’re afraid of without even mentioning or implying things about what they’re doing.
So often, the money conflicts we have in relationships are just battlefronts in an ongoing conflict between two people who are afraid to completely open up to each other. Focus instead on that. Strive for more honesty and take that first step yourself.
Go home tonight, open up a bit, and lay a piece of yourself on the table. Tell your partner something you’re afraid of or about a mistake you’ve made that you’re struggling with.
It may take them aback. It may take that other person some time to realize that it’s okay to take off some of that armor they’re protecting their own heart with.
In the long run, though, money problems (and most other marital problems) melt away in the bright sunlight of honesty.