3 Common Money Issues in Marriage (and How to Resolve Them!)
Money is one of the most common sources of conflict in marriages. In fact, many claim arguing over finances is the second leading cause of divorce.
Financial disagreements happen over everything from past mistakes, such as defaulting on a loan, to differing money management philosophies, such as one partner being a saver while the other is a spender.
When you’re married, all of your financial decisions, both past and present, have an impact on your partner. And if those decisions are preventing your family from achieving financial goals or even paying monthly bills on time, anger, resentment, and conflict are inevitable.
A 2021 study by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) found that a staggering 73 percent of Americans who are married or cohabitating say financial decision-making is an ongoing source of tension in their relationship.
Of that same group, 7 in 10 of the respondents (69 percent) reported having a disagreement with their partner about finances in the past year. These conflicts were most often triggered by disagreements about:
- Needs vs. wants (36 percent)
- Spending priorities (28 percent)
- Making purchases without discussing them first (22 percent)
- Paying off debt (21 percent)
- Saving for larger purchases (19 percent)
Let’s look at three of the most common money issues in marriages and how couples can work together to resolve them.
3 Common Money Issues in Marriages and Relationships
1. You have a high amount of debt.
Financial stability plays a huge role in quality of life. Excessive debt, whether it’s from credit cards, student loans, or big-ticket purchases, can quickly lead to anxiety as you make payment after payment with no end in sight.
This prolonged emotional stress will eventually impact your relationship with your spouse due to frequent arguments and lack of trust and may even result in divorce.
2. There’s one-sided spending.
One-sided spending occurs when one partner makes unilateral decisions to purchase items that the other partner doesn’t agree to. For example, your spouse goes out and buys a motorcycle knowing that you hate them.
One-sided spending puts stress on a relationship in multiple ways. First, there is the perceived lack of respect for the other partner’s needs both by the person who wants to make a purchase and the person who opposes it. Financially, one-sided spending causes resentment because one partner may have to make sacrifices to pay off debt for something they didn’t need or want.
3. There’s a financial imbalance.
Although it’s not uncommon for one partner to make significantly more money than the other or to bring more assets into the relationship, a financial imbalance is a frequent money issue in marriages that causes tension for couples.
For example, the spouse who makes less money may feel guilty about buying something for themselves or not contributing as much to household expenses.
The spouse who earns more may feel resentful that they are working longer hours or paying for more shared expenses but perhaps aren’t realizing the same benefits as their partner.
How to Reduce Money-Related Stress in Your Relationship
Fighting about money makes almost every list of leading causes of divorce. However, according to the AICPA survey cited above, only 56 percent of married or cohabiting Americans say they are very comfortable talking to their partner about finances.
This inability to communicate openly, honestly, and calmly about finances causes dissent between couples that, in many cases, could be avoided.
Here are some tips for making financial conversations more comfortable and productive so you and your partner can stress less, communicate more, and work together to solve money issues.
Start small and work up to the big stuff.
No one likes to be blindsided, especially with a difficult conversation. Set the stage for your talks by casually bringing up money-related topics, such as the price of groceries, then start digging into deeper subjects, such as retirement and long-term savings, as your comfort level increases over time.
If you and your partner really are in it for the long haul, when things get heated, it’s important to remember that you care about the person you are talking to. It’s easy to point fingers and assign blame for your financial problems. But the goal isn’t to win the argument—it's to find a resolution you both can live with.
Keep an open mind.
Couples often come from very different financial backgrounds that have influenced their attitudes about money management. Looking at the source of a disagreement from both sides—not just your own—can help you understand why your partner feels the way they do, and maybe you can find common ground.
There is no user manual for handling money issues in marriage. However, there’s no shortage of resources you and your partner can use to become more informed about finances. Use this as an opportunity to learn together by reading books, listening to money-focused podcasts, or even signing up for an online course.
Schedule a regular financial talk “date night.”
Once the ice is broken, keep up the momentum by setting aside one night a month to talk money. Turn off your phones, put the kids to bed, and break out the spreadsheets. If you are following a budget, check in on how it’s going and where you are struggling. Talk about long-term financial goals and whether you’re meeting the targets you set. Most of all, just talk about money.
Don’t Let Money Ruin Your Relationship
Money issues such as excessive debt, one-sided spending, and financial imbalances can cause tension and resentment between you and your spouse. But when you recognize the signs of a problem early, there are things you can do to address them before they cause irreparable damage to your relationship.
To learn more about successfully managing money issues in marriage, download The Ultimate Guide to Managing Money in a Relationship, and get additional tips for:
- Having hard conversations about past financial mistakes
- Resolving disagreements about money management
- Communicating openly, honestly, and often about your finances
- And more