Monday, December 25, 2023


The three most common "reasons" for couples to break-up are:

  • Money
  • Family (family events, holidays)
  • Sex

"...reasons..." is in quotes because there is a shared, underlying commonality that they are manifestations of.

All three "reasons" are about the allocation of a limited resource. They are about "who holds the power" because the person who determines how a limited resource is spent is the dominant person, the one who holds the power.

Money Part One

Money is always a limited resource. Who gets to decide how it is allocated? The person whose opinion prevails demonstrates dominance. They have the power (even if they achieve their goals via passive-aggression).

The time that can be spent with family, especially during holidays is a limited resource. In fact, time is the ultimate limited-resource. Every human has a finite number of heart-beats and each one ticks off a second of life.

Time at holidays

This is front-and-center this time of year and triggered this post.


Sex is about the use of that tiny bit of time left after getting ready for work, working, commuting, preparing and eating food, washing clothing...sleep.

Every couple that endures must find their own solutions to these conflicts.

Some couples "auction off" the holidays a day at a time. "You get first choice and I get next"

Some couples negotiate by the minute "I can spend more minutes awake-in-bed with you if you help me catch-up on folding and putting away clothing"

Money Part Two

Money is a tough nut to crack in part because we have the opportunity to spend money several times a day.

Another factor is that there are two very different styles of spending; the Nibbler and the Plunger. One style is frequent-but-small purchases like food, toilet paper, utility bills, a dozen golf-balls, a bottle of nailpolish. Another style is infrequent but large purchases like a bass-boat, golf-clubs, travel, a remodeled kitchen.

The Plunger can think himself virtuous because he goes months without spending money and think the Nibbler is killing the budget with a thousand paper cuts. And then in ten seconds of impulsiveness, he can mash the Purchase Now button and spend $5000 dollar.  Merchandisers are EXPERTS at triggering impulse buys.

The Nibbler sees himself as the heroic defender of the line and having to make dozens of spending decisions a day (admittedly some will be sub-optimal) only to have the Plunger invite the enemy (extravagant spending) in through an unguarded flank.

Clearly, money is a ready-made fault-line in a relationship and it will be an intractable problem until it is recognized as money-as-a-proxy-for-power.

One solution is to stake out domains like Barons in feudal times. One partner might be responsible for daily needs and the other partner determines how most of the money in-excess-of-daily needs is spent. For example, one might do the grocery shopping and the other plans the vacations but it is all with defined amounts of money.

But every couple must feel their way along and find their own solutions.


  1. ERJ - Of those three "reasons", I would say that family is/was the least impactful to us. We lived close enough to both families for years that we could see each as needed; now it is much more of an issue of seeing who is left of the preceding generation. I, at least, have come to accept that it is likely most or all of my children will live away from us and we will fit in what we can.

    Money...a hot topic now, given my layoff. The layoff has certainly brought spending and savings into focus. Given the current environment, it is going to be a topic for some time. We do have allocated "roles" based on what the subject of the spending is.

    Happy Christmas!

  2. Honesty with your beloved and yourself and communicating needs prevents most of this.

    My wife is bad about conflicts and will not often tell me my spending is stressing her out when it's Important to me.

    Takes observation of her stress markers for me to realize something is wrong and gently push her to speak about it.


  3. In my house the wife doles out sex in a very limited fashion. It’s been several months since our last intimate encounter. Despite asking, pleading, discussing how important it is to our relationship and still getting the cold shoulder. I was considering giving myself a divorce for Christmas but decided to wait. Now it’s first and foremost for the new year.

    1. Sex is one of God's greatest gifts to mankind.

      Very few species can "do the wild-thang" when the female is not fertile. Humans are one-of the very few.

      Some Evolutionary Biologists suggest that a woman who is not ovulating being able to offer her mate the joys of the marital bed was essential to discouraging him from straying and to keeping him contributing (food, security, labor) during those 11-to-17 years when each child was a net-economic drag.

      It would be naive to suggest that no men strayed. But knowing that you had an almost-sure-thing waiting for you meant you probably did not stray too far or for too long.

      I do not see the view that sex is God's gift to us and the beliefs of Evolutionary Biologists as being incompatible. I believe God created the rules of genetics and hence He created the process of evolution.

      If the beliefs outlined above overlap with yours even a little bit, then you have to wonder about the spirit of the woman (or man) who refuses to share a gift freely given by God. Sex is far more important that that tin-can filled with flavored pop-corn.

      That is a long way to say "So sorry to hear of your situation. Divorce is not a desirable outcome but sometimes it is the best that can be hoped for."

    2. Everybody's marriage is different. Mine sounded very similar to yours. I kept at it. I believed that after different milestones things would change. When the kids started school. When the kids started driving. When the kids went off to college. When we had empty nest. Eventually I could only see two milestones left: retirement and death.

      Other things had been clearly wrong for years. She actively destroyed communication. Avoided the kids and me. She had decided that seeing the grandkids once every 5 to 7 years was sufficient. I needed to see them more. When she said she thought we should get a divorce, I felt a huge weight lift. I no longer had to solve the unsolvable puzzle.

      I wasted 20+ years married to a woman who only loved herself (we were married closer to 30, 25 were a waste). If you don't have kids, get the divorce. Find someone who wants to be with you.

  4. Communication is key for all of those main reasons for splitting up. My wife and I managed to stay together (until cancer took her, that is) because we talked to each other. When she made those small purchases, it was because we needed (or really wanted, rewards are important too) something right then. I would buy stuff on a more bulk basis to keep expenses down, and we'd collaborate so I could ensure that I bought what we would use. When a large purchase became necessary, we talked about it, decided what we were looking for, and only then got it.

    My family lived close by, hers were across the continent. So, we'd visit her family when time and money would allow. It wasn't perfect, but it was what we could do. Again, talking and planning together.

    Sex, well, it had its ups and downs, depending on her health and my fitness level. She vastly preferred me fit, so I did my best to stay that way. Communication was key here as well. Love needs sharing, otherwise it fades away like plants deprived of water.

  5. There is some benefit to discussing in detail one's expectations for the relationship, and each other, prior to legally cementing it. Nothing stays the same, things change, often, or usually, because of outside influences - job, relatives, the economy, children, health, it's a long list - but having a rough outline that's well understood up front can be quite helpful.

    And, if stiff resistance is met at the creation of that Document of Understanding, well......

  6. The number one cause of divorce is unmet expectations.
    The number one cause of unmet expectations is UNREALISTIC
    expectations. Everything else involved are details.

    1. I do not disagree. But I believe that the nature of the most common expectation is "I am going to be the one in-charge!"

      I like to point to the signal man who used to be guide planes to the landing-deck of the aircraft carrier. He was not the Admiral nor the Captain of the ship. He was not a pilot. His authority was based on the fact that he had the most information of the plane's likely path, the wind, the pitching of the deck. His authority was based on being the person best placed to wave-off or direct the pilot in.

      That, to me, is the best model for a marriage. Sometimes your spouse will see something or know something and will leave their swim-lane.

      A solid marriage will have elements of trust and forgiveness. We trust our spouse to have our best interests at heart. We can forgive them when they make mistakes. We can forgive OURSELVES after we make mistakes.


Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.