Why Financial Opposites Attract

Money issues are a leading cause of divorce, but marrying someone with a different financial approach isn't necessarily a bad thing.

When I got engaged, the premarital jitters that hounded me were not the usual fears of commitment; they were about my finances—and the potential incompatibility with my fiancé that those finances could cause.

My fiancé has student loans, sure, but he manages his money well and his credit card debt is slim to none. He has a regular, salaried, full-time job. I, meanwhile, have around $20,000 of debt looming over me—not even counting student loans. Plus, I'm a freelance writer and piano teacher and my income fluctuates constantly.

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According to a survey by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, money issues are one of the three leading causes of divorce, with 22 percent of couples reporting it as a reason for their breakup. So it make sense that plenty of us are worried about our finances' potential effects on our relationships.

According to finance expert Dave Ramsey, 63 percent of those with more than $50,000 in debt feel anxious about talking about their personal finances. I am definitely one of those 63 percent! However, he does go on to say nearly two-thirds of all marriages start off in debt, so if you're currently engaged and in debt, you're in good company.

If you're worried about your personal finances and about to head into a marriage, it's easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of money issues in a partnership. Here are some pieces of advice to remember and help you plan accordingly as you begin your journey together. You may be surprised to learn that financial opposites can actually be a good thing.

Traditional 9-to-5s vs. Freelancers

Alyssa Adams, a clinical psychologist, business mentor, and entrepreneur coach, notes a common example she's seen lately—a relationship between a business owner and a partner with a traditional 9-to-5 job.

"The business owner might have the perspective that money is always available, and it's a resource that you can create more of by offering new products or services in the business," she says. "In contrast, the partner with a more traditional 9-to-5 might view money as a limited resource and the way to have more money is to save and spend less."

When partnerships like this come together to plan their personal finances and perhaps a future family, it's important to address their conflicting perspectives openly and without judgment. Adams said conversations such as these can provide a rich opportunity to deepen the relationship, as diversity of thought and differing perspectives, especially around finances, can strengthen a couple.

Know Your Strengths

Barbra Russell, a counselor and author, remembers when she told her husband she'd take care of their finances. Her background of living paycheck to paycheck, with no budgeting, savings, or wealth management quickly "turned that decision into a fiasco," she said.

Her husband took over their finances. He was frugal and able to plan well for the future—ever since he had to learn the hard way by moving around a lot in his youth. "Thankfully, both of us were able to recognize our limitations—actually my limitations—in the area of finances," Russell says. "I decided my strengths would shine in other areas [of our relationship.]"

"Opposites Attract"

Dr. Rebecca Resnik, a licensed psychologist, notes that in functioning relationships, you often see people marry their complement. "Picking someone who has different skill sets, particularly when it comes to managing money, is smart," Resnik says. She explains that long-term relationships need to function like a "tag team" or a small non-profit: Everyone needs to have a role based on their talents. "Watching your partner excel in his or her own element is definitely attractive," she adds.

Money is never just money in a relationship; Resnik reminds us that it always has symbolic value. If you grew up without money, it might mean security or safety to you. If you have always had financial wealth, you may see it as part of your identity. "For people who overcame obstacles, such as fleeing from a war or systemic racism, their financial success can feel like a victory, and it is hard not to be attracted to someone with such a compelling story," Resnik adds.

Pittsburgh-based psychotherapist Stephanie Wijkstrom says that when you're searching for love, you are often unconsciously searching for someone to complement you. If you're messy, you may admire your partner for being so neat. If you consider yourself more of an introvert, you may think your extroverted significant other is amazing for being so sociable. The same goes for finances.

"If you grew up buying groceries paycheck to paycheck, you might be attracted to those who can offer financial security," she says. "The truth is, many people are looking for someone who they can learn from, who intrigues and inspires them, and nothing is more interesting than someone who is totally different from you."

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  1. Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, Survey: Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) professionals Reveal the Leading Causes of Divorce. Accessed February 23, 2023.

  2. Ramsey Solutions, Money Ruining Marriages in America: A Ramsey Solutions study. Accessed July 22, 2022.

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