The debt argument – Marriage, spending, and conflict resolution

You likely know the answer to this but I’ll ask.

What is the number one cause for divorce in the United States?  You answered “money,” right?  Ok, I gave you that answer and perhaps it’s correct, but marriage experts disagree. The Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education claims it is not money, but rather “habitual avoidance of conflict.”

Even when both partners are extravagant spenders, over time one will become more conservative while the other will react by spending more.  Sometimes when the partners begin diametrically opposed in their financial approaches, the conflict pushes the relationship to the brink.  When children are involved and/or the partners are strongly motivated to make it work, they may avoid conflict by simply not talking about the issue.  One partner might secret money away while the other hides their spending.  The conservative or saver partner might choose to simply go along with the spending in order to pacify the irresponsible partner.

Avoiding the discussion does not solve the problem.  Ultimately, there will be consequences and the conflict will become personal and destructive.  Resentment will grow on both sides until it can no longer be contained.  The spender will feel the saver is unfairly in love with the money more than him/her.  The saver feels the spender is irresponsible, selfish, and/or in love with “things” more than him/her.  Both have avoided the conflict to the point that their financial stability is in jeopardy.

Usually one partner dominates the more passive one.  In my own observations the dominate partner begins to disrespect the passive one.  Believing his/her own needs are the family’s need and somehow his/her solutions are the only ones worthy of consideration.

Wanting desperately to maintain domestic harmony and fearful of damaging the children or being viewed as the problem by friends and family, the passive partner allows the situation to spiral out of control.

Facing the prospect of financial collapse conflict can no longer be avoided. The relationship suddenly explodes and the partnership is ended in disaster. The love, the children, and the money are gone and the wreckage is everywhere.

What is the answer?

If you’ve ever been married you know how this argument goes.  The spender says, “We need to increase our income. Let’s demand raises at work.”  The saver responds angrily, “In this economy? Are you nuts?! You need to cutback.”  The spender, “We’re already cutback. Anything more and we’re taking food out of the kid’s mouths or maybe you could wear Goodwill clothes to work?”  The saver, “Junior doesn’t need to be involved in 3 sports, cut one and we’ll save $$$.”  Spender, “WHAT!!! You would punish your son because you don’t want to ask for a raise?”  Saver, “Ok, how about you take a break from your hobby? You know how much you spend every month on that?”  Spender, “NO! You give up your hobby!!” And so they go in an unending deadlock.

According to the marriage experts, successful couples learn to work around and through trouble areas where agreement is never likely to be achieved.  In the case of money, marriage councilors have little solid advice.  They simply tell us a couple needs to agree on rules for the use of money.

Wow, really?  Perhaps, in situations where the parties are separated by a small chasm, but what if one partner has a problem?  Maybe one spends like an alcoholic drinks.  In this case, the spender just looks for ways around the rules and the saver feels increasingly impotent or worse joins the spender in excessive consumption.

When money is the issue, when debt threatens the family, when the spender simply refuses to admit the facts and turns the blame around on the other partner, when the saver partner becomes a spender, in all of these situations disaster is certain.  It might be time to stop fighting about the money and yield financial control to a third-party or simply give up and let the bomb explode.

Where are we going?

If you’ve browsed this blog you may have realized, I am no marriage counselor.  In fact, this essay has little to do with marriage.  This is a parable, an analogy.  We are the children.  The government is the parents.  Democrats are the excessive spenders.  Republicans are the weak passive savers-turned-spenders.

What more do I need to say?  Democrats want a raise — even if it means getting fired — or in this case unemployment shoots above 10% permanently.  Republicans want their partners to cutback on their lavish spending, but are unwilling to cutback on their own pet spending addictions.  Republicans are WEAK, to avoid looking like bad guys they roll over on every principle.  Democrats scream and cry whenever even a hint of fiscal responsibility is suggested.  If their counterparts attempt a stand on any point — no matter how insignificant, they are labelled “Scrooges,” mean-spirited, and uncompromising.   Sound like a spouse with a bad consumption addiction?

Regardless, of your political allusions, there is no real raise in this economy. The 1% are paying for the majority*, and while it’s true, they could eek out a bit more, it won’t fix the problem, even if we assume it doesn’t cost a single job.

Maintaining the current level of spending is impossible.  It’s time both Democrats and Republicans cutback on their pet spending and raise revenue modestly through user fees and loophole reductions.  But if they don’t address the problem, like the proverbial marriage the entire household is doomed for dissolution.

It is time for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution since divorce isn’t an option and converting to a third-world economy ain’t too appealing.  If people knew how much government services and entitlements actually cost, perhaps we could recover — or completely run every last job out of the country.

*If you want statistical support for this you’ll have to browse through my earlier writing. There is plenty there.
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    • Ben
    • December 5th, 2011

    RE:It is time for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution since divorce isn’t an option and converting to a third-world economy ain’t too appealing. If people knew how much government services and entitlements actually cost, perhaps we could recover — or completely run every last job out of the country.

    I think any educated person can see that debt levels of 100% of GDP, that is, 15 Trillion USD, is insane. Imagine any given household that spends its monthly income plus some by juggling balances between credit cards, much like what Greece has been doing. It is not hard to see that an existence such as that is unsustainable and will result in the ruin of the entity in question, be it a household or a sovereign state.

    Like Greece, the household might be able to go to a bank to acquire a loan but if the amount is not enough to pay down its debt and instead only allowing the household to service the debt, i.e. pay off only the interest, the household is not improving, but slowly getting worse. It will soon have to acquire another loan, It won’t be long before the interest rates on any future loan make that prohibitive. This is the situation of Greece.

    If any thinking American want to know the fate of their country, they only have to look to Greece. We are on the same road that Greece has been on. We may be a few years away from the same fate and we still have the time and unlike Greece, the economic engine in place to rev up to change our course and our fate.

    As a country, we have to decide the kind of future we want for ourselves. Do we want to be a social country, like Greece, Italy and the others? Or, do we want a gov’t that is, unlike Greece, honest with its people and more importantly, able to create a culture where its people believe in themselves and their abilities and one that rejects the notion that government must be our parent.

    As your post points out, due to differences in ideology our government is unable to come to an effective decision to change the road we are on. This is probably the biggest and most important reason why the outcome of the upcoming election will be pivotal moment in our history. To say our fate is in the balance might be the biggest understatement in our history.

    One last thought. As we look “over there” and watch the socialist oriented governments and societies crumble under the weight of their debt, we are witnessing its inevitable end. And while America shovels money into the IMF to help bail them out, keep in mind we are seeing capitalism come to the rescue of socialism, which should actually be allowed to die once and for all.

  1. Thanks for the insight. As I watched the tearful apologies for having to tighten the belt in Europe I was thinking it reminded me of divorce and the tearful apologies for sins that should never have been committed.

    Listening to Obama call robbing SS a tax cut made me sick. It was not unlike the proverbial spender wanting to drain the retirement fund to pay for a vacation with the kids. Unfunded because any benefit won’t repay SS!

    If they want to rewrite the tax code and give us middle-class folks a REAL tax cut fine. However, what they are doing is borrowing a $1k a year from each of our retirement accounts and calling it a tax cut. I didn’t even notice my pay went up $50 a paycheck because my health insurance went up $100.

    Now I’d like to rant. My company says to pay for the luxury tax on our coverage. Meanwhile my health insurance stopped covering medicine I use because the government says they don’t have to cover it under the new rules. Hmm, when there were no rules about what had to be covered they covered it and cheaper.

    This is government trying to help. Very much like asking a chimp to set the dining room table – I’d have said a bull in a china shop but Mythbusters demonstrated bulls are actually less destructive in a china shop than we thought.

    Like I continually tell my friends and family, the government does only 1 things very well; they destroy things. That’s why we have a great military. Everything else they screw up or mismanage to a dizzying extent.

    Disagree? Add your comments please!

    • Cathleen
    • January 22nd, 2014

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