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Forget Perfect

Another one bites the dust

It's official: Of the 12 people who were in our wedding, only three are still with spouse No. 1. Actually, I guess it's five, if you count me and my husband.

Was it the pink taffeta dresses, the cheap champagne or one too many rounds of "YMCA?"

Alas, it was none of these things. The reason so many of our friends are divorcing is because they got married, and, as we all know, it's a 50-50 game at best.

But I guess we hang with an overachieving bunch because our crowd seems to have surpassed the 50 percent mark when it comes to divorce. In addition to our wedding party, just this week I discovered that two more couples in our church are splitting up and so is one of our college buddies.

These aren't so-called starter marriages, where two starry-eyed, immature 20- (or 30-) somethings plan a huge wedding and split up before the Vera Wang has been paid off. In our circle, the recent rash of divorces has been, for the most part, long-term marriages with kids.

Money was an issue in several of the break-ups. Or at least that's what the couples claim.

Experts have long said that money troubles are one of the leading cause of divorce. Fifty-seven percent of divorced couples in the United States cite financial problems as the primary reason for the demise of their marriage.

However, there's new evidence suggesting that while people may say that money problems are the reason for their break-ups, the real issues go much deeper. Jan Andersen, associate professor at CSU Sacramento, who has researched the topic, says, "If we look at all the causes of divorce, financial problems can only account for 5 percent of the effect."

In the case of many of our peers, I think what really happened was that money issues hit an already shaky union and pushed it over the edge. Andersen comments, "No one is going to say, 'I got divorced because I was a jerk.' It's more acceptable to say, 'We had money troubles.'"

Yet perhaps it's not the lack of money that ends a marriage. It's how people respond to it, and how they interpret their partner's response.

In times of stress, a spouse's failure to take initiative, or look for a new job, or rein in their spending, can all be interpreted as just one more sign that they're not giving the marriage their all.

If someone feels like their partner has been letting them down for years, financial issues can be the catalyst that prompts all the old baggage to come flying to the surface. It seems silly to say, "I'm still mad about how selfish you were 10 years ago." But a fight about the Visa bill feels totally justified.

However, as any divorced person will tell you, splitting up doesn't solve money problems; it just creates more of them.

As I look back on our wedding photos, the '80s hair looks awful, the dyed-to-match pink shoes look silly, and we all look hopelessly young and naïve. I wonder if any of us realized that when the minister said, "For better or worse," that he was giving us a hint about the realities of marriage.

Nobody's perfect, especially when they're down. But it's a real shame when people turn away from each other just when they need each other the most.

- Lisa Earle McLeod is a syndicated columnist and principal of McLeod & More, Inc., a training and consulting firm specializing in sales, leadership and conflict management (www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com

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