Bypass 'divorce month' by getting honest about money

January is "divorce month." Yes, that's right. There is roughly a one-third increase in divorce filings in January. The reason for this large uptick in uncouplings might just be because spouses try to keep the marriage together through the holiday season, then move forward with their long-planned divorce once the kids are back to school and the New Year's resolutions are set.

Are you wondering if your marriage is headed for splitsville? According to Sonya Britt, a Kansas State University researcher, the biggest predictor of divorce is whether or not you argue about money.

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The merging of a couple's spending habits can lead to tension in a relationship, especially when the two parties have different financial philosophies.

According to "Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce," a study co-authored by Britt, couples who argue about money in their relationship have a far greater risk for divorce. This is true no matter what their income, debt or net worth.

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While nobody wants to assume that they will wind up getting divorced, the fact remains that more than 50 percent of marriages are, in the end, dissolved. If you want to stay wed happily ever after, it is important to invest in your marriage and your financial knowledge.

Here are four tips that might help ensure that you and your spouse make it to Valentine's Day together and beyond and continue to have your "happily ever after."

1. Respect one another. When it comes to money, many married people cannot see beyond their own individual views on spending and saving and have great difficulty understanding their partners' perspectives.

One's spending behavior is often the result of deep-seated attitudes that developed during childhood. Have respect for your partner's individual experiences with money, as you would like him or her to have respect for yours.

2. Create a budget. Coming up with a budget is the key to marriage bliss. If one of you is a saver and the other a spender, create a budget that allows for both. This will help keep your spending habits in sync.

Even if you do not stick to the budget 100 percent, it will take the guesswork out of who is spending what.

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The most important part of budgeting is writing it down or using a tracking program, such as Quicken or Be brutally honest with yourself. No one is going to see what you have written other than the person nearest and dearest to you: your spouse.

3. Plan for the long term. Sit down together and map out your dreams and goals. Construct one-, three-, five- and 10-year plans. Make a list of the steps it will take to accomplish those goals.

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You may want to consider help from a financial planner for a number of reasons, whether it is deciding to buy a new home, planning for retirement or your children's education, or simply not having the time or expertise to get your finances in order.

Whatever your needs, working with a financial planner can be a helpful step in securing your financial future and keeping your marriage on track.

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When choosing the right financial planner, you need to feel comfortable with her or him. Your planner must also be an expert on softer topics, such as money issues between couples, as well as hard issues, such as investing, retirement and education planning.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is a good place to start. The advisors listed on the association's website are "fee-only." Fee-only means they do not receive any compensation from financial-service providers for selling their products.

"Keeping financial problems to yourself is destructive to the openness and stability of your relationship."

4. Make "money dates." If you are not open with your spouse, it is very hard to have a healthy relationship. Talk about the situation before it becomes a problem. Keeping financial problems to yourself is destructive to the openness and stability of your relationship.

If this advice seems like a lot of work, know that it does not have to be. Set up a "money date" with your significant other each month. Be prepared to talk about your finances for at least 30 minutes. Be open and honest about what happened during the last month.

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Your agenda should include conversations about everyday spending, big-ticket purchases and longer-term goals. Make sure that the two of you are on the same page with regards to who is responsible for each bill and which of you is monitoring your savings and investments this month.

Communication is key to a happy and successful marriage, and a money date will be the perfect forum to make this happen.