You know how there’s all that financial “disaster porn” out there about how athletes blow their money? And usually they like to go on and on about gambling addictions, or out-of-control spending, or the expensive entourage, or unscrupulous financial advisors. Terrible business deals and real estate rip-offs, you know the story. That sort of stuff is fun to read, isn’t it? Because really, those “sins” are the kinds of sins that you, a good, upstanding, middle-class American are very unlikely to commit.
And it feels good to feel superior, doesn’t it? Especially to those high-falutin’ athletes and entertainers because, deep down inside, maybe we believe that they didn’t really deserve all that wealth anyway. So seeing them lose it because of a coke habit, yeah that feels validating.
But here’s what they don’t like to talk about too much. You know what the number one cause of financial problems is for athletes? Divorce.
And see, the media isn’t going to tell you that because it really isn’t going to make you feel any better about yourself. See, there’s nothing to feel superior about here when you are divorced, or your parents got divorced. Or, your wife is on her second marriage. Or, your husband has a couple kids with a different mother. And even if you’re not divorced you know that in our society, divorce is always a realistic possibility. Even if divorce hasn’t affected you directly, your family members or your close friends have gone through divorces. And some of them were brutal, weren’t they?
It just isn’t quite so easy to laugh at athletes for getting divorced, and it isn’t easy to feel superior to them for their marital troubles.
Folks, it isn’t just athletes. What I can say now, after a good 21 years of trying to help people with their finances and their taxes, is that divorce is the number one financial catastrophe. And believe it or not, it’s not just the “losing half” part.
Some studies have shown that, on average, people recover from the death of a spouse or a child faster than they recover from a divorce. Now that’s just an average. It may not apply to you. And, for everyone, how hard it is to recover from divorce depends on how long the marriage lasted, how long the divorce proceedings lasted, and a whole host of other factors.
But at this point I can honestly say that some people never completely recover. Or at least, it’s been years and years now, and they haven’t recovered.
One of the most disturbing, one of the hardest lessons of young adulthood, is that people regress when they experience a big failure. A divorce after a decade of marriage, being fired from a dream job that they were in for years, or being pushed out of a company they helped found. When people experience these kinds of failures, it changes their thought patterns and their mindsets. I no longer have any doubt about this.
They become less than who they used to be. They can recover, but the regression is still real, even if it’s only temporary.
When people get divorced, it isn’t just that they lose half. They sometimes lose years out of their lives due to the depression or stress. They often falter in their careers. And they definitely have a strong tendency to make awful decisions, especially financial ones.
Now if you are already divorced then you are already on the path to recovery, and this post isn’t really aimed at you. No, I’m mostly actually aiming this at people who aren’t even married yet.
Millennials, especially. The world is giving you a whole lot of flack over a whole lot of stuff. Maybe you deserve it and probably you don’t. But I’ll tell you one big thing that you all are doing right. You’re waiting to get married.
There is absolutely no good reason to be in a rush to get married. Most of the people I know who have gotten divorced flat-out said they originally got married for the wrong reasons. It was the expected thing to do, we were madly in love, the relationship looked good on paper, I was trying to fix myself, I was trying to fix him, I couldn’t stand the thought of her being with someone else, I was lonely, I wanted someone else to make me happy. These aren’t good reasons to make a lifetime commitment, and those of you waiting are wise to wait.
On top of that, if you ask financially successful people what their best decisions were, quite often marrying a financially responsible spouse is near the top of the list. So go ahead and wait. The more mature you are, the more likely you are to make a wise decision when you contemplate the biggest risk you will ever take.