Financial Planning and Happy Marriages

Good to Know

Question: What can be a more common cause for divorce than infidelity?

Answer: Unresolved money conflicts.1  

While being on the same page over money may not guarantee the coveted fiftieth anniversary, fighting over money can undermine marriages well before the golden anniversary. The issues vary, but communication around marital finances can be one of the keys to an enduring marriage.

This article focuses on how CFP Board’s emphasis on the psychology of financial planning can reduce marital tensions. Before continuing, let’s understand one alarming financial impact of divorce upon families. Poverty is the result for nearly one-half of American families in the wake of divorce.2

Communication and the 5:1 Ratio

It turns out that expressing one’s goals or concerns and carefully listening to your spouse’s goals or concerns are highly predictive of achieving financial goals and marital happiness. Relationships that last are built upon behaviors such as the 5:1 ratio, according to one study.3 For every one negative comment (or complaint about money), there should be five positive comments. Regrettably, arguments over money can put the 5:1 ratio at risk and jeopardize reaching financial goals.

Resolving Money Conflict as a CFP® Certificant

CFP Board is keenly aware of these all-to-addressable marital issues and specifically includes sources of money conflict in its Psychology of Financial Planning domain. An entire textbook (The Psychology of Financial Planning) was developed at the behest of the CFP Board to deal with this new domain and includes a discussion of marital conflicts over money, such as the following:

  • Building the Client's Motivation for Achieving Their Financial Goals,
  • Examining Couple and Family Financial Transparency,
  • Mediating Financial Conflict,
  • Facilitating Goal Congruence, and
  • Identifying When Money Is Being Used as Manipulation.

The Bottom Line

Here's the bottom line for CFP® certificants in these issues — we’re expected to help our clients reach consensus (or mutual compromise) during the course of a financial planning engagement. Without support from both spouses in reaching a financial goal, the prognosis for success is limited. We’re not marriage counselors, but we can serve our clients well by helping them get on the same page in their finances.

1 According to magazine. Other surveys put infidelity at par with or slightly higher than money conflict.

Effects of Divorce on Financial Stability. Retrieved from

3 Gottman, J.M., & Levenson, R.W. (1999). What Predicts Change in Marital Interaction Over Time? A Study of Alternative Models. Retrieved from