Money is the single most common factor in divorce, or rather, fighting about money is. This is tragic, partly because of the heartbreak and the lives destroyed, but also because marriage is such a truly golden opportunity for teamwork and wealth accumulation. Figure out how to work together, and you can quickly reach a point at which you never need to argue about money again. Then all you have to do is learn to negotiate the housework, and the rest is a cakewalk.
There are only a few things more expensive than a contentious divorce. I’m thinking: gambling addiction, multi-level marketing, timeshares, and maybe smoking. My husband and I were both the “saver” in a marriage with a secret spender. That was how we first became friends, comparing notes about how badly we got burned. When we realized that our financial philosophies were very similar, it strengthened our friendship and mutual respect. By the time we eventually started thinking romance, we were already aligned, already giving each other valuable advice and emotional support. This was only compounded by our prior experience. We used our terrible divorces to teach us what to avoid.
Money is only part of the conversation. Really the money is just a symbol, an outward representation of the real discussion. What are we going to do with our lives? How are we going to contribute in this world? How are we going to turn energy into money into energy? As Jim Rohn says, don’t become a millionaire for the million dollars, do it because of the kind of person it will make you into. A resourceful person, a planner, an initiator. Learning the money game is no less legitimate than learning how to excel in art or athletics or academe. Games have rules, that’s all.
How do we get out of the game, around the game, above the game? What’s the strategy?
This is why it’s so valuable to have a partner. You want someone you can talk to, someone you can trust to keep your secrets and advocate for your interests, someone who knows you in some ways better than you know yourself. You want someone with a different skill set, someone who sees what you can’t. Ideally your chosen person is a good sounding board, someone who is afflicted with mood pollution or flagging enthusiasm at a different rhythm than yours.
For instance, my husband sometimes gets frustrated and glum when he can’t solve a complex technical problem. I always laugh because I know the answer will come to him within 36 hours. It always does! As a working artist, I see his wrestling match with the muse in a different context than the STEM people in his office. What’s obvious to me is never the same stuff that’s obvious to him.
I’m a divergent thinker, he’s convergent. I make my investment decisions based on business news, CEO biographies, and trend analysis; he reads P&L statements and looks at the charts and numbers. I’m ultra-frugal; he’d rather just earn more.
Part of why we make a good team is that we respect each other’s input. I play defense, he plays offense. Really, though, our secret is that we strategize and help boost each other’s earning power.
Early in our friendship, I felt paralyzed by the magnitude of applying for a job I really wanted. My future husband stood over me and wouldn’t let me get out of my chair until I’d finished the exhausting three-hour application. He brought me Chinese food. I got the job. Then he did it again the next two times, knowing my tendency to procrastinate until the deadlines had passed. Three buckets of takeout translated, over five years, to a 70% pay increase. My skills, my resume, and my work ethic wouldn’t have meant much without his cheerleading.
I’ve played a similar role in his career path. It helped that we met in the workplace and that I learned about his professional skills from a neutral outsider’s perspective. One of our first collaborations was when I taught him how to set electronic boundaries to keep his ex from distracting him constantly via phone and email. It worked almost instantaneously, of course. It also demonstrated that I understand how mental bandwidth works. I’ll do anything to protect and defend my husband’s ability to focus on his work. To me, that’s the bare minimum. Don’t be an obstacle to your mate’s earning power.
Don’t seek to spend it all, either!
His philosophy is that it’s our money, that what he earns is for both of us. My philosophy is that what’s his is his, and if I want more, I should go out and shake the tree and earn it. I started working for money when I was ten years old. It’s a huge part of my personal pride. It’s also part of why I still have my own personal bank accounts and why I manage my own portfolio. I could never have risked putting on another wedding ring if I’d felt financially dependent on anyone but myself.
What we’ve seen other couples do is really sad and transparently obvious. Here are the rules for ruining a perfectly good love match:
Classic example: He bought a big-screen TV for the Super Bowl party so she bought a high-end sewing machine. There, I showed you! Revenge shopping for the win. The divorce lawyer’s win...
True partners think of each other’s well-being. This is partly out of genuine high regard and affection, like the other day, when I got to see my honey do improv comedy for the first time. I always knew he’d be great at it! I knew it! He makes me proud and I just dote on him. The other reason we think of each other’s well-being is that we benefit from it personally. I mean, duh. When he looks good, I look good, and vice versa. I’ve been there to see him help a stroke victim, break up a fight between two drunks in a restaurant, and help a lost child at the fair, among countless other brave deeds. Knowing the other is cheering from the sidelines can be a very powerful motivating force. A love that spreads outward, a partnership that can’t help but affect everyone around us.
The thing about money is that it’s nothing. It’s just one form of energy among many. It’s a scoring system. It only has the power that we choose to give it. There are lots of ways to live outside of the money system, if you have the taste for that kind of thing. It’s easier and more straightforward to just go ahead and do it the normal way. Money is a way to buy ourselves a certain specific type of old age. It’s a way for us to give gifts and spend time with loved ones who live far away. It’s the most efficient way to do charity. It’s a tool that buys us freedom from various types of distraction. Most of the time, we have the luxury of never thinking about it at all. That’s partly because we share the load and partly because we’ve created a world together. What we do with money we also do with adventure, with exploration and learning and testing our skills and physical abilities. We’re partners in the climb, whatever the nature of that climb might be.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.