Money Habitudes Helps Save Marriages from Divorce

Contact: Kent Thompson, Financial Program Manager with Army Community Service, Camp Ederle, U.S. Army Garrison, Vicenza, Italy

Situation: A comprehensive, six-hour course for couples intending to divorce called Military + Divorce created by the Association of Financial Counseling, Planning and Education (AFCPE). Classes ranged from one to five couples and are intended to provide the information so couples can settle their finances as part of the impending divorce. The course is not intended to help couples work out their differences and back away from divorce.

Who: Divorcing couples in the U.S. Army, many who did not want to be at this class.

Why:

  • To create a non-threatening and non-judgmental judgmental environment where couples would let down their guard, open up and talk more freely since money and divorce are two notoriously uncomfortable topics to discuss in private, let alone in a class situation.
  • Although the Military + Divorce course was supposed to just tackle the facts, Thompson noticed that when the facts were raised, they sparked the same disagreements, anger and anxiety that led the couples to seek a divorce in the first place making a difficult situation more difficult.

How:

  • To supplement the standard AFCPE curriculum instead of starting by talking about budgeting, the Money Habitudes Solitaire game was used as an initial class activity with the couples. Each couple individually did the solitaire game and then talked about it as a couple.
  • After using the cards couples discovered weak spots between them and Thompson then used those cues to lay out the list of other classes offered.

Outcomes:

  • The cards did indeed help break down the barriers of resentment and misunderstanding, helping the divorcing couples see their partner’s perspective.
  • The cards helped to open each other’s eyes.
  • Once Thompson found that couples could work with each other on the money topic, he could then offer them suggestions to strengthen their finances-and, in turn, their marriage. “At the sessions where we did Money Habitudes cards, it opened the door to those other classes.”
  • With the cards and the larger class, couples discovered individual challenges with money as well as weak spots between them.

Unexpected Outcome

  • Reaching a common understanding of their money problems provided the couples with a foundation to look at their larger relationship.
  • In the end, having better understood each other and their disagreements, most of the divorcing couples decided to turn away from divorce and make the marriage work.

Observations and Comments:

I used the cards for every one of those Money + Divorce sessions I had and, of all the classes I taught, I only had two couples say that they were still going to get a divorce anyway. All the other couples decided they didn’t need to get a divorce.

From a financial counselor aspect, the first issue that always comes up, is, ‘Well, my partner doesn’t know how to handle money anyway!’ And so I thought, ‘If every partner is saying that about their partner, then let’s find out who really does control the money and how well do they do it and what are their attitudes about money?’ And so the cards fit in perfectly with that scheme.

The cool thing about the cards is: Here are things that might be challenges for you and here’s how you can overcome them. And those couples looked at that and actually started working at it, saying, ‘The cards are right—(even) if perhaps my spouse is not—and I can probably work on that.’

The money issue was the biggest issue and it was the biggest reason for the divorce for all of those other couples and they decided, ‘You know what? This is overcome-able stuff. We don’t have to get a divorce because we’re not comfortable with the money situation.

The cards were a nice augmentation to the [AFCPE] class. A lot of times, it really did open their eyes. When you’ve got a husband and wife sitting there and neither one of them can understand why the other one has the money attitude that they have, or why they do what they do with their money, to them, they think it’s just a point of anger or a point of contention.

If you could do this with couples, particularly if they’re having money issues before they deploy, and just say, ‘Let’s just see what each of your attitudes is,’ then, before they deploy, we can address these things.

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