TODAY   |  June 28, 2010

Healthy bank account equals a healthy marriage?

TODAY financial editor Jean Chatzky and psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz offer tips for avoiding “financial infidelity” and  explain why couples who save money and agree on spending often have marital bliss.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

AL ROKER reporting: Now TODAY'S MONEY and how finances can strain a marriage. Decisions like whether to make a major purchase on a credit card or how much of your paycheck should to into savings can have a big impact on your happily ever after. Jean Chatzky is TODAY's financial editor and psychiatrist Gail Saltz is a TODAY contributor. Good to see both of you.

Ms. JEAN CHATZKY (Today Financial Editor): Nice to see you.

Dr. GAIL SALTZ (Today Contributor): Nice to see you, Al .

ROKER: So Jean , what went into this study and what kind of financial parameters were they talking about?

Ms. CHATZKY: This is the first study that I've seen in a long time that actually looked at very specific information about how much debt people carry, how much they have in assets, in savings, and how that impacted the number of fights people have about their marriage. And what it showed was that people who fight once a week, for example, are about 30 percent more likely to head for divorce than people who only fight about money once or twice a month.

ROKER: And does this surprise you, Gail ?

Dr. SALTZ: Not at all. Money is actually the number one source of divorce. It's a huge source of stress for individuals...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...and therefore, individuals bring that to the couple. It represents the power and control in the relationship, it represents your ability to get things. And so, you know, it's a natural that that would be the thing you fight over. And unfortunately, people often don't choose someone who has a similar money style to themselves and so it's a wider gap to, you know, bridge...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...and that creates a lot of problems.

ROKER: So Jean , you say one of the first things people need to do -- couples need to do is come clean about their finances.

Ms. CHATZKY: Look, when you are dealing with somebody every single day as you are in a marriage, you need to be honest with each other.

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CHATZKY: And if you're hiding information about money , of course that's going to lead to a fight. So let's sit down and let's talk about how much we earn, how much we owe, what we own in terms of assets, and then we can come together and develop a plan for getting out of debt, or saving more. But let's just lay it all out there on the table to begin with.

ROKER: And, Gail , when people do that, though, they've got to have kind of a -- almost like a guilt-free zone; it's like, ` Look , I'm coming clean about this'...

Dr. SALTZ: Right.

ROKER: ...`don't penalize me.'

Ms. CHATZKY: Yeah.

Dr. SALTZ: You know what, they have to find ways to communicate and get on the same page. But if you're sneaking around, that essentially -- there's a term for that, right, financial infidelity.

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: It's a sense of betrayal that you feel if someone's actually getting things...

Ms. CHATZKY: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...and purposely keeping it a secret. But I agree with you, Al , that then therefore you need to each have things that you can get on your own that you do have a plan that you've worked out, that you don't feel like `I have to keep coming to you and saying is it OK, is it OK to every little thing.'

ROKER: Kind of like an immunity.

Ms. CHATZKY: Well, that -- `is it OK, is it OK' makes you my mother.

ROKER: Right.

Dr. SALTZ: Right.

Ms. CHATZKY: And rather -- or my parent...

ROKER: Sure.

Dr. SALTZ: Right.

Ms. CHATZKY: ...rather than my spouse, and that's where you don't want to go.

ROKER: The other thing you say, Jean , you got to -- you got to first of all get down your debt and start saving.

Ms. CHATZKY: Right. So when we looked at this research, debt led to divorce, saving, having assets, led to marital security. So yeah, let's have a plan to get out of debt. If you've got credit card debt, and that's the worst kind, you want to figure out which card is charging you the most in interest, throw all your extra money to paying down that card, and then pay the minimums on the rest...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CHATZKY: ...until that card is gone.

ROKER: But Gail , you raised a point, if you both have different styles...

Dr. SALTZ: Yes.

ROKER: ...and you can't agree on how you pay down the debt or how you save, what do you do?

Dr. SALTZ: You have to acknowledge that marriage is a business contract in addition to the fact that it's about love, hopefully. And so you have to have weekly meetings...

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...where you sit down and say, `This is where I came from, my family of origin, my style of -- and this is your style, so how are we going to negotiate and meet in the middle ?' And if you have weekly meetings with updates about what's happening and what you're going to do, you have a better shot; and if you can't do that, you probably need to get some help, you need to have someone come in, a financial person who can either educate you and help you...

Ms. CHATZKY: Or a therapist.

Dr. SALTZ: you, or a therapist.

Ms. CHATZKY: I think those weekly meetings...

ROKER: I mean you -- mm-hmm.

Ms. CHATZKY: the way, are really, really hard. I mean, money is one of those things...

Dr. SALTZ: They are.

Ms. CHATZKY: ...we just hate to talk about it. So there are so many things technologically right now that we can use to help us. We decide we want to pay down our debts, then we schedule ourselves for automatic payments; we decide we want to save more, we schedule that automatically, too, and then we can take satisfaction in our progress.

ROKER: It almost sounds like what you're both saying is, in a way, you need a financial planner and a therapist.

Ms. CHATZKY: But you -- a good accountant...

Dr. SALTZ: You...

ROKER: I mean, I'm serious.

Ms. CHATZKY: ...wouldn't hurt either, right?

Dr. SALTZ: But you can do these things for yourself.

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: I don't want to say to everybody they have to have -- you really can do this for yourself.

ROKER: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: You have to make the priority decision that you're going to communicate about something that you don't want to communicate about...

ROKER: Right.

Dr. SALTZ: ...that it's hard to do. So you have to set that up for yourself and say, `I'm going to educate myself'...

Ms. CHATZKY: Mm-hmm.

Dr. SALTZ: ...`I'm going to educate my partner and we're going to talk whether we enjoy it or not.' And by the way, don't do that in the bedroom because, you know, mixing those two...

Ms. CHATZKY: No. And if you're fighting -- the fights are what lead to divorce, that's what this research shows. So if you're fighting, that's your signal that you got to get some help.

ROKER: It's the first warning sign.