Wondering how to deal with money issues in a relationship?
Recently, I received an email from a reader who said to me, “Financial stress is killing my marriage. What can I do?”
Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve received an email like this.
Over the years, I’ve had many people email me questions about how to handle finances in a relationship.
In fact, a popular blog post about this subject – HELP! My Significant Other Makes Me Pay For Everything – from back in 2014, still generates many emails and comments about the topic.
Money issues are incredibly common, and the 2021 Couples & Money Study by Fidelity Bank found that one in five couples identify money as their greatest relationship challenge.
There are all kinds of different money issues in a relationship, and they can cause a lot of emotional and financial stress.
You may have problems with:
- Financial infidelity – This is when you or your partner lies about purchases, hides debt, or something else.
- Not having regular money talks – This can be an issue because you or your partner may not fully understand your financial situation.
- Control – It is a problem if one person is too controlling with money. This could mean that your partner is not allowing you to buy things that you need, that you’re feeling trapped in a relationship due to money, and so on.
Money plays a huge role in relationships, whether you want to believe it or not. There are so many different ways that money can cause negative issues and change the way you feel about your partner.
Some of the other money issues I’ve been asked about over the years include:
- My partner has a very high amount of debt. I’m not sure if I feel comfortable getting married. What should I do?
- My spouse makes $50,000 a year and wants to buy a $900,000 house, but we have no savings. How do I explain why this won’t work?
- My partner has the mistaken idea that if he has a coupon for Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. that they must absolutely buy something because they are “losing money if I don’t use the coupon.” They are a hoarder and spend all of their money on stuff that they will never use. How do I help them work past their issues before it’s too late for us?
- My partner spends over $1,000 a month on entertainment, but we have a lot of debt. How should I approach them about it?
- My partner isn’t trying to find a job, but we desperately need the money. What should we do?
If the money issues above sound familiar, unfortunately, you’re not alone.
According to another survey, 35% of Americans named money as the number one thing causing friction in their marriage. CNBC reported on a money and relationships study done by SunTrust Bank, and here are a few more troubling points the study uncovered:
- In 2 out of every 5 couples, someone lies about money.
- 31% said that they have a secret credit card or bank account.
- 75% said that financial deception has hurt their marriage.
It’s no surprise that money is one of the leading causes of divorce.
However, money issues in a relationship don’t always have to lead to divorce or a breakup.
Some things may be unforgivable (depending on your situation, of course), but there may be steps to take to resolve your financial differences if that is something that all parties in the relationship want to do.
Everyone is going to handle money in their relationships a little differently, and that’s because everyone is unique. We all have different spending habits, and the way we grew up with money can play a major role in how you approach money as an adult.
But, it’s important in a relationship to come together to see how your behaviors affect your shared life.
Working together is key for a happy relationship, especially when you want to meet your financial goals.
Related content: How And Why My Husband And I Keep Separate Finances
How to deal with money issues in a relationship.
Regularly and openly talk about money with your partner.
Talking about money is such an important part of any relationship.
A relationship that has regular money talks and budget meetings is more likely to be financially successful and happier than a relationship that doesn’t.
In fact, CNN reported last year that studies overwhelmingly show that talking about money with your parnter improves overall marriage satisfaction.
Being open about your money situation can help prevent any surprises, it will ensure that both people in the relationship are aware of what’s going on, and so on.
Here’s why regularly talking about money is important in a relationship:
- You can work together towards your financial goals. If you are both putting effort towards your financial goals, you can tackle them as a team and are much more likely to have a positive outcome. You can also motivate one another, troubleshoot together, and brainstorm for ways to work towards your goals.
- Being aware of your finances will help you create and follow a budget. Understanding your financial situation means you can create and keep a budget that works for the both of you. You will both have a better idea about how much you make and are spending, whether you are living paycheck to paycheck, and more.
- Knowing your whole financial situation may prevent the burden from falling on one person. I have heard this too many times – just one person knows and manages all of the finances in a relationship, and the other person is either oblivious by accident or by their own doing. Both you and your partner should be aware of your financial situation. It’s not fair for one person to manage it all. And if something were to happen to that person, you would be in for a very rude awakening. Sharing your finances means you should be sharing information about your income, debt, how much is paid in bills each month, savings, investments, retirement savings, and so on.
- Regularly talking about money can help you reach your goals. It’s quite difficult if only one person in a partnership is aware and working towards a family’s financial goals. Being involved keeps everyone motivated and working in the same direction.
- Regular money talks can lead to less fighting. When you are open about money issues in a relationship, you are less likely to have financial surprises and money fights. This is because conducting regular money talks and budget meetings means you will both be aware of what’s going on.
Being open in these money talks is so important if you want them to improve your relationship and finances. Being honest with your partner and willing to hear them out is what it means to be in a partnership.
Don’t be in the dark when it comes to money.
The lack of knowledge doesn’t end with salaries. I’ve met people who don’t know what their monthly mortgage payment is, how much student loan debt their partner has and if they have even started saving for retirement.
Regularly talking about money should involve revealing that kind of information with your partner.
There are some people who are in the dark because the partner with serious money issues in their relationship, like having a lot of debt or a spending problem, may be afraid to share. That’s why you need to enter into money talks with an open mind.
Be willing to listen to your partner and ready to help.
When you sit down to talk about money, your meetings can include things like:
- Your financial goals, money values, and more
- How the two of you are doing financially
- What changes may need to be made
- Any financial problems, and so on
The key here is that both of you are up-to-date on what is going on with your marriage and finances so that everyone can work together on your family’s financial goals.
Always be honest about your money issues.
Financial infidelity is when you aren’t being honest about money in your relationship.
It can be hiding receipts, lying about the price you’ve paid for something, hiding credit card statements, lying to cover up debt, opening a credit card without telling your partner, and so on.
The shocking reality is that this behavior is all incredibly common.
In fact, CNBC reported on a study that found only 61% of people say they are totally honest with their partner when it comes to money. And, only 52% of people believe their partner is being honest with them.
What I see there is that many people seriously struggle to trust their partner when it comes to money issues in a relationship.
Some acts of financial infidelity, like hiding receipts, may seem very small, but they can lead to even bigger problems.
Down the road you may find yourself with debt piling up beyond what’s imaginable, stress, unhappiness, and it may start impacting other areas of your life. For some couples, financial infidelity can eventually lead to divorce.
Unfortunately, it’s possible that you may already be a victim of financial infidelity without even knowing it. Here are signs that there may be a problem:
- You haven’t noticed any bills in the mail. This could be a sign that someone is hiding the bills.
- You are getting calls from debt collectors. These may actually be legitimate calls!
- Your credit cards are being declined. This could be a sign that someone is overspending without your knowledge.
- Your partner no longer wants to talk about money. This could be a sign that your partner is too afraid to talk about money with you because they fear that you will uncover the truth.
Lying about money is very serious, but it’s important to realize that there is probably still time for the two of you to start improving your relationship. While being honest with your partner is important, you should also make sure that your partner feels comfortable telling you when they are struggling.
Create spending limits in the relationship.
I know some people will see spending limits as controlling, but that’s not always the case.
Instead of thinking about spending limits as limitations or rules, think about them as guidelines that can help you work towards larger goals. That’s because spending limits are really just there to help you stay on track with your budget.
You can set limits however you would like, and some couples tell each other about every single purchase they make, whether they buy something for $1 or if they buy something for $1,000.
Others only tell their spouse if they reach a certain amount, such as $100.
Perhaps, you could decide on a certain amount each month that you and your partner can spend however you’d like. Kind of like an allowance.
Other couples do things like weekly or monthly no-spend challenges.
Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to sit down with your spouse and determine what kind of limits you should set for your specific situation.
Setting guidelines can help with money issues in a relationship because it’s the two of your working together. You’re keeping the communication lines open with your marriage and finances so there are fewer arguments about money.
Learn how to improve your finances together.
For anyone needing help with money and relationships, one of the best things you can do is to learn how to improve your financial situation. It can be an empowering thing for you to work on money issues in a relationship with your partner
If you want to improve your financial situation, here are some of the things you may want to do:
- Read financial blogs. Reading financial blogs can help you see what other people like yourself may be doing to improve their financial habits. While it may not always be perfect and/or applicable, it can be helpful to see real life examples.
- Listen to financial podcasts. You can learn a lot about improving money issues in a relationship by listening to others talk about their own situations and topics relevant to your life. And, there are so many amazing financial podcasts out there!
- Read money books. 15 Best Money Books To Help You Change Your Life is a great read if you are looking for money books. That list shows books that will help you to pay off debt, find side hustles, manage your money better, figure out retirement, and more.
- Attend money workshops. There are in-person workshops on the topic of personal finance, huge conferences, money meet-ups, and more.
- Join money-related Facebook groups. I have a free Facebook community that you can find here, and another favorite of mine is ChooseFI.
The key here is to do it together. I think learning more about money usually motivates people to improve their financial situation, so if your spouse is having a hard time managing money, this can be a good way to get them more involved.
How do you avoid money problems in a relationship?
I often get people wondering how I handle and avoid stress related to money in my relationship. The truth is that I practice all of the tips I shared with you.
I am very fortunate to be in a position that allows me to retire whenever I want, but that doesn’t mean my husband and I don’t occasionally have money issues.
Money issues will always come up in any relationship, but the important thing is how you handle them.
Wes and I are honest about our spending, we work towards goals together, and we regularly talk about our finances. Talking about our financial goals and being willing to listen to what each of us wants has only made us trust each other more.
Sure, we don’t always agree on how to spend our money, but we sit down and are willing to hear the other person out.
Can money ruin a relationship?
Should money end a relationship?
Some will say no, and others will say yes.
For me, I do believe that money issues can lead to a breakup.
However, that doesn’t mean that divorce or separation should always be the first place you go when you are having money issues in a relationship.
The way you and your partner handle money can be a sign of other problems, and there are ways to work on those issues before deciding to call it quits.
You may decide to seek out counseling together, get professional financial help, or start talking more openly about your issues.
Only you can determine what goes on in this step, as it’s a very personal decision and no one knows the exact issues you’ve been through and how they’ve affected you and your relationship.
How do you handle financial stress in a relationship? What other financial issues have you experienced in your relationships?