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Arguing Over Money


Arguing over money is one of the biggest problems in medical groups and the most commonly cited reason for divorce. Becoming self-aware, and the honesty that derives from it, are critical to a smoother handling of money affairs.

Fasten your seatbelts — this could get bumpy.

We know that arguing over money is one of the two biggest problems in medical groups (the other is governance). And we know that money disputes are the most commonly cited reason for divorce — for 27% of divorces, according to U.S. News and World Report, leading family, kids, sex, chores, work, friends, and on and on.

Further, arguing about money weekly doubles the divorce rate. None of this is any real surprise because money touches every aspect of our lives. So the reasons why we argue about money and what we can do to resolve (or, better, prevent) these nasty entanglements is important for everyone to know. Arguing about money costs money — sometimes a lot.

Docs learn over time that when they see a patient there is always a good reason and, often, a real reason for the visit. One's ability to tell these apart is often the difference between a successful visit and relationship, and the kind of medical encounter that leaves everyone confused, if not unhappy.

It’s the same with money issues, whether in medical or marital relationships. Most of the energy and passion in these brouhahas comes not from the financial object of "discussion," but from the subject, which, too often, is control/power, respect, freedom and self-esteem. Let's call them unconscious expectations. In fact, if we look to our parents and how they handled these issues, we can often see the genesis of our own conflicts. People can get very emotional if their spouse doesn't automatically do what their opposite-sex parent did/does. Like who pays the bills, for instance.

Ultimately, all of this boils down to our old friend, communication — or the lack of it, to be more specific. Potential money conflict is just one more reason why people would be wise to consider pre-marital counseling, or even just discussing these topics themselves before there is a call to arms. And the good news is that it is never too late to begin.

People come into marriage with differing backgrounds and expectations on subjects like salary, saving, debt and spending habits, for starters. How often do we see friends, or even comedians, wax on and on about the adventures that ensue when one person is a saver and the other is a spender?

Becoming self-aware, and the honesty that derives from it, are critical to a smoother handling of money affairs. Making a budget, loose or tight, which means setting mutual goals and ground rules, is essential. Perhaps automating saving and paying bills will help to reduce the number of action items and friction points. How about an agreement ahead of time about how much each person is free to spend without a prior discussion? How about a setting a scheduled time — say each month, at a low-stress, "smart" time — to discuss any financial matters to avoid flash-point skirmishes along the way?

Sharing knowledge and decision-making always minimizes conflict. As media financial guru Suze Orman says, "Truth creates money and lies destroy it." And truth flourishes with planning, openness, avoiding blame and always building your partner up.

Medical groups could learn something from this kind of marital financial advice, too. I love those stories about "we did it all on a handshake." In my experience that is a recipe for disaster in any relationship where money is involved — personal or professional.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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