Why Couples Fight Over Money and What to Do About It

by Nora Dunn on 12 November 2008 7 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

There is no denying that financial matters lay at the root of many – if not most – couples’ problems. While some openly communicate about the issues at hand, more couples yet don’t even recognize exactly what the problems are and thus allow a bad problem to worsen, and in some cases, culminate in a break-up or divorce.

Here are some of the issues that cause friction in our romances, and what to do about them before they blossom into a host of irrevocable thorny problems.

 

Financial Inequality

It is rare that both parties in a relationship meet at exactly the same financial period in their lives, earn exactly the same money, have exactly the same savings and debts, and can build their lives together on exactly the same page. So it stands to reason that financial inequality can be the root of resentment and even jealousy.

One person can be left feeling that they have contributed everything to a one-sided relationship, and the other may feel unworthy of their better-off partner.

 

What to do about it

Creating a life together boils down to more than plain dollars and cents. If you are in this for the long run, then who brings what to the table is essentially irrelevant. Maybe one spouse earns more money, but the other likely adds value in non-monetary fashions.

If you wish to keep your finances separate, then invoking prenuptial agreements may be a way for each spouse to feel more self-justified and protected from the other’s assets (or lack thereof).

 

 

Management Madness

One member of your team may be more adept at managing the day-to-day finances better than the other. Thus that person could naturally find themselves saddled with paying the bills, the mortgage, and making sure all the piles of pennies add up at the end of the day.

This can create a sense of unwilling burden on the person who manages the finances, while making the other partner feel uninformed and locked out of their financial life.

 

What to do about it

Capitalizing on strengths and weaknesses is an ideal way to manage a relationship overall. But in order for both people to feel comfortable with the finances, both need to be informed even if one person still does all the financial legwork. Try having a financial meeting once a month to review the finances, and to make any necessary decisions about expenditures. If desired, write a list of financial tasks and allocate them between the two of you accordingly.

Either way, make sure that you have all your accounts, passwords and pins, and other financial details written down somewhere. That way if something happens to one partner, the other is not left in the dark as to how to even begin maintaining the finances.

 

 

Addiction

Vices can be the most destructive on a relationship – financially and otherwise. Addictions like alcohol, gambling, shopping, or even compulsive cheapness can be devastating in the long run.

 

What to do about it

Depending on the level and type of addiction, more often than not this won’t be something you can deal with on your own. Addictions often require outside help, be it an intervention, counseling, or even just a trusted friend with perspective.

 

 

Financial Abuse

As an extreme version of the inequality issue, financial abuse occurs when one spouse uses money as a way to control or manipulate their partner. This is especially prevalent in situations where one spouse works full-time and the other works simply part-time or stays home with the children. The lower income-earning spouse may contribute more than sufficiently to the relationship in other ways, but may still be made to feel less worthy and degraded in asking for money to manage the household or live on.

 

What to do about it

This is another sticky situation that may require outside help. Incidences of financial abuse usually stem from a previous history of abuse, whether financial or otherwise. The abuser likely doesn’t realize what they are doing, and the abused may compound the situation if they have a similar history which leaves them predisposed to that set of circumstances. Financial counseling is the way to get around these issues. Even if the abused person seeks help by themselves, they may be able to learn coping mechanisms that can keep the relationship alive.

 

 

Money makes not only the world go ‘round, but also a relationship. Joining two lives is no small matter, and when money is involved (as it inevitably is), so too is a set of heightened emotions, previously programmed actions and reactions, and two entirely different financial histories. Marrying the two (literally or figuratively) requires lots of communication, dedication, and willingness of both parties to learn, change, and adapt. If possible, try to make it enjoyable and positive – it will make the hard times (and yes, there will be hard times) much easier to deal with.

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Guest's picture

I was disappointed to find such an emotional subject addressed with so few practical answers. What do do about it: "nothing". When you address something like this you have a responsibility to know what you're talking about. You didn't.

Guest's picture

You brought up a couple of good points. Overall, I think its all about balance, cooperation and communication within a marriage. Like you said, money will be a factor, so make sure its communicated.

Guest's picture
katy

VERY good points.

In addition, in my marriage we have separate accounts, chip in for utilities, pay half the rent each, separate credit/debit cards.

Difficult, emotional topic and you could not cover everyones' situation - but you did a real good job. Thank you.

Guest's picture
Dara

Understood that you can't cover everyone's situation...but what do we *do*? I don't see any actual actions as advice here, just theory. For example, in the inequality section...how can it be fixed?

Guest's picture
Linda

There isn't anything worse than one being a spendalot and the other trying to save pennies! Disasterous for a relationship

Nora Dunn's picture

Although I didn't spell out solutions in a blatant step by step format, I thought I did cover what to do! For example, in the case of financial inequality, there are two things you can do:

1) Accept the fact that how much money each person brings to the table is irrelevant if the relationship is solid and you are in it for the long run.

2) Invoke a prenup if the concern is about protecting individual assets.

Sometimes, solutions don't come in the form of easy-to-apply quick fixes. Does that mean I shouldn't have written about it? Gosh, I hope not.

As illustrated with the tougher financial hurtles like Addiction, what you may need to get through the tough times is financial or couples' counseling. As a solution, counseling can apply to any of these financial challenges depending on the severity of the situation.

Good luck, and I hope this clears things up a bit.

Guest's picture

I enjoyed your post Nora. I think this is a helpful article in that it helps people first recognize what may be contributing to their arguments. I have noticed that many of my clients fight over money but haven't really discovered the underlying causes which I think Nora does a good job of addressing.