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Money Is Known as One of the Leading Relationship Stressors — Here's How to Navigate the Topic


January 28, 2022

Gone are the days when women were subjected to being in the kitchen barefoot and taking care of the kids. Today, many have careers, and some earn more than their male counterparts, notably their romantic partners.

While it is rewarding to have money and not depend on anyone else, when it comes to relationships, finances can cause unwanted conflicts.

According to NBC News, money as a component has been long known to be a leading cause of stress in relationships and it might be because, for some couples, the subject is off-limits.


Some of the reasons may be that one party feels insecure about their financial situation, and another may be because a couple has only started dating and so one may feel like bringing up the topic may ruin things from progressing.

Regardless of the reservations, money compatibility will play a significant role in a relationship and will eventually impact choices each individual makes or does not make.

If it is a serious relationship, the couple would have to discuss whether they would purchase a house together, have kids, or retire early.

Those big decisions require a lot of financial planning, and if a couple is not on the same page or does not have the same values when it comes to money, it will lead to troubles down the road.


According to money-coaching couple Talaat and Tai Mcneely, behind His & Her Money, it comes down to how the couple communicates:

“It’s usually a severe breakdown communication. Whether that’s communication between each other, or communication with reality.”


While it may be challenging to bring up the money topic in a relationship, it is imperative to do so because it may be unclear where each party stands with their finances, making it hard to map out future financial plans.

According to Erin Lowry of Broke Millennial, the first step to take is getting financially transparent. Lowry described the process even further:

“Sharing our numbers didn’t mean we swapped ATM pins and ran to get a joint bank account. Instead, it provided a foundation in which we could create hypothetical scenarios about how to handle money if we decided to get married.”


Lowry mentioned that it was a meaningful conversation to have after several years of dating. One perfect example is from a couple who shared with Buzzfeed that if there is a difference in income, they do not split the bills 50/50.

“We maintain separate checking accounts. My spouse makes significantly more money than me in his field. We split rent down the middle, but all other expenses and utilities tilt with him paying a bit more.”


In another instance, an individual earning more than a significant other can become uncomfortable for one person in a relationship. One scenario is where a woman wrote to Refinery, sharing that she made $50,000 more than her partner.

According to the lady, she and her boyfriend were thinking of moving in together, and so he was pushing on looking for a nicer apartment, saying they could afford it based on their combined income.

She said it bothered her because she preferred looking for a cheaper place and saving more money. The woman found it unfair that she paid for everything they did together mainly because she earned more.

Author of “Finance for the People: Getting a Grip on Your Finances,” Paco de Leon advised the woman stating fairness to her might look like an even 50/50 split.

However, for him, it might seem fairer to split up the costs based on each of their incomes. Leon further explained they should decide which expenses will be split and kept separate.

She noted that 50/50 might split might work for duos starting their lives together. On the other hand, Leon said the idea might not work.

“A 50/50 might not work when one partner earns significantly more. It may leave the person who earns less feeling financially strained if they can’t save or allocate enough to pay down debt.”


When it comes to marriage, Rachel Sherman, a sociology professor, examined authority arrangements in the unions of the affluent in her book, "Uneasy Street."

Sherman suggested that at least two additional factors influenced the power dynamic. The first one is the source of household resources, including earnings and inheritance.

The other is spending habits which include which person in the marriage has the license to do what, when and who decides. Sherman noted conflicting patterns could cause hostility but that understanding them was the first step:

“People are lucky if they have a partner who has the same ideas that they do.”


According to financial expert James McWhinney, disagreements about money cause friction in many marriages, leading to a divorce.

He said if one partner has more debt than the other, or if one is debt-free – there can be arguments when discussions about income, spending, or debt servicing arise:

“People in such situations may take some solace in knowing that debts brought into marriage stay with the same person who incurred them and are not extended to a spouse.”

However, in most states (those that operate under common law), debts incurred after getting married jointly are owed by both spouses.

McWhinney said couples knowing what they are getting themselves into makes all the difference and could help in approaching the situation.

He advised both partners to have an honest, nonjudgmental discussion about the individual debts they would bring into the marriage, especially when things get serious.

“Each should come clean about any bad spending or financial habits that the other should know about or any personal or family issues that could affect future spending,” he said.

McWhinnery suggested couples should also perform a full accounting of debts and talk about how they plan to handle them, stating it could help follow common payoff strategies such as paying off the higher-interest debt first or paying off the smallest loans first.


According to Founder & Director of Finsafe, Mrin Agarwal, it raises an eyebrow if a partner shows little interest in sharing expenses, and should be taken as a sign. It implies that they could not be serious about the relationship or expect to be supported for the rest of their life.

Another red flag is the refusal to talk about finances, even after having been together for several years. Showing unwillingness, irritability, or anger while talking about money even after a few years of dating is regarded as the ultimate warning.

One last suspicious conduct is a partner who dictates their significant other's financial behavior. Agarwal further explained that it was a reason for concern:

"If you allow your date to plan your finances even before marriage, you will have no freedom, financial or otherwise, afterward."


American financier Suze Orman emphasized that partners in a relationship need to put their finances on paper, such as a prenuptial agreement:


"Ensuring that you have the correct documents in place to safeguard you and your assets is a must. A prenuptial agreement will delineate what is solely yours before marriage, meaning you will be protected if you divorce."

Orman said for people who contemplate on getting married after getting a divorce, the only way to protect their assets was to create a legal trust for their children from a previous marriage.

She stated the document would clarify what portion of the one party's assets would be allocated to their kids rather than the new spouse.

The author noted that after getting married, "every asset either of you acquires is jointly held." She added it was the main reason couples needed to be in sync with their long-term financial goals, from paying off the mortgage to putting away money for retirement.

Orman highlighted that ideally, people in relationships should discuss such things before tying the knot because it could end up in unfavorable conditions if they do not.


According to Business Insider, a small study (113 African American and 131 Euro American couples) published in 2003 investigated issues that caused the most conflicts for newlyweds.

The study discovered that in both the first and third years of marriage, money was most often reported as a topic of marital disagreement. It even beat out tensions about common factors such as leisure, each spouse's family of origin, religion, and children.

Meanwhile, a 2005 study looked at survey data gathered randomly from 1,010 newlywed couples and found that starting a marriage with consumer debt had a "negative impact on newlywed levels of marital quality."

In addition, several surveys discovered about a third of couples were not forthcoming about their finances with their significant others.

In one, 31 % of those combined finances admitted to lying to their spouses about money. Another third of those surveyed said their spouses had deceived them.