How Does Money Affect Relationships?

Whether you're just starting out, or you've been together for years, money can deeply affect your relationships.

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So you just started dating someone, and things are going great. You’re having fun, enjoying getting to know each other, and maybe even thinking about a future together. But then, the topic of money comes up. And things start to get a little…awkward.

Whether you’re just starting out and trying to figure out how to split the bills, or you’ve been together for years and are dealing with more complicated financial issues, money can be the root of all sorts of problems in a relationship.

Money is a hot-button issue for a lot of people; not surprising. After all, hard to earn it, and we want to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. 

But how much is too much? Or not enough? How do you deal with financial jealousy? What happens when you’re a spender but your partner is a saver? These are all valid—and common—questions that are important to ask about and discuss when in a relationship. 

What are the common money issues that arise in a relationship?

Money is often cited as one of the major sources of conflict in a relationship.

According to a 2018 study on personal money, one in five Americans say they have financial disagreements with their partners monthly. And 41% of those surveyed say financial anxiety has an impact on their relationships some of the time.

It might be something as simple as how to divvy up the bills each month. Or, it could be a more complicated issue, like one person racking up debt that the other feels they have to help pay off.

Here are a couple of the most common money problems that come up in relationships::

1. Spending habits: 

When one partner is a shopaholic, but the other is more frugal, it can lead to some serious tension. You may find yourself arguing about how much money is being spent and on what.

Chances are you’re not going to change your spending habits overnight (and you shouldn’t have to). But it’s important to be honest and open about how much you expect to spend with your partner and try to find a happy medium. 

2. Unshared Debt

This is a big one, especially if you’re married. If one partner has a lot of debt—whether it’s from student loans, credit cards, or something else—it can put a strain on the relationship.

The partner with the debt may feel like they’re shouldering all the responsibility, while the other partner may feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

What’s more, the outstanding debt can make it difficult to achieve joint financial goals, like buying a house or saving for retirement.

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So, how do you deal with unshared debt in a relationship? Communication is the key—you need to be honest about the situation and devise a plan to pay off the debt together.

3. Financial-satisfaction disparity:

Here’s something that might not be so obvious: your level of financial satisfaction can impact your relationship, even if you don’t realize it.

study conducted to determine the relationship between financial satisfaction and financial stressors in marital relationships revealed an inverse correlation between the two. In other words, the more financially satisfied you are, the less stressed you’ll be in your relationship.

But what if only one partner is satisfied with the financial situation? That’s where things can start to get tricky. The partner who is happy with the status quo may not understand why their spouse is constantly complaining about money. On the other hand, the dissatisfied partner may feel like their concerns are being dismissed.

It comes back to being open and honest about your financial satisfaction. If you’re not happy with the way things are, explain why. And if your partner brings up a financial pain point, work to keep an open mind and listen.  

4. Money sharing:

When it comes to money, some people are all for sharing everything—joint bank accounts, credit and debit cards—while others prefer to keep their finances separate.

There’s no right or wrong answer here; it’s really a matter of personal preference. Some couples find that sharing everything creates a sense of unity and intimacy, while others feel like it’s an invasion of privacy.

If, however, you and your partner don’t see eye to eye on how to handle your finances, it can lead to some serious problems. For example, one partner may feel like they’re always getting stuck with the bill or like they have to constantly ask their spouse for money.

The best way to deal with this issue is to sit down and discuss it. Discuss your comfort levels with sharing money and try to find a compromise that works for both of you.

5. Financial power plays:

In many relationships, one partner tends to have more control over the finances than the other. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can create problems if the balance of power is skewed too far in one direction.

The partner with the most financial power may make all the financial decisions without consulting their spouse. Or, they may use their power to control or manipulate the other partner.

On the flip side, the partner with less financial power may feel like they’re not being heard or that their opinion doesn’t matter. They may also start to resent their spouse for always being in control.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s essential to talk about it. In a case where one partner is always making financial decisions, try to come up with a system where both partners have an equal say. And if you’re the one who feels like you’re constantly being controlled, voice your concerns to your partner.

6. Unequal incomes:

Differences in income levels can add an extra layer of complexity to your finances—and your relationship. If one partner is earning significantly more money than the other, it can create a power dynamic that’s difficult to navigate.

2017 psychology report revealed that income equality has an inverse relationship with happiness and satisfaction in a relationship, meaning the more equal your incomes are, the happier you’ll be.

But if your incomes are far from equal, it doesn’t have to tear your relationship  apart.  

Instead, talk about your expectations and see if you can agree on a system that works until your situation changes. . If one partner is earning more money, they may be able to cover a larger share of the bills and expenses. Or, you may decide to keep your finances separate. 

7. Jealousy: 

Jealousy is a common emotion. Sometimes, it can even be a healthy emotion that spurs action. But when it comes to money, jealousy can quickly take a turn for the worse. Let’s say that your partner spends a lot of money on their hobbies, while you’re struggling to make ends meet. It’s only natural that you would start to feel envious of their spending.

Jealousy can also rear its ugly head when one partner starts to earn more money than the other. The partner with the lower income may feel like they’re being left behind, while the other partner seems to be doing just fine.

Solving this problem isn’t always easy. You may even have to consult a therapist to help you work through your feelings. But it’s definitely worth the effort  to  want to keep your relationship strong.

How to combat money issues in a relationship

1. Talk about it:

Money is a sensitive subject. But when you’re in a relationship, it’s essential to talk about it—even if it means having some difficult or uncomfortable conversations.

Sit down with your partner and discuss your respective comfort levels with splitting up your money. And if you’re struggling to make ends meet, be honest about it. Your partner can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on.

2. Keep your cool:

Rather than getting angry or defensive, try to keep your emotions in check when discussing money with your partner. It may be challenging to have a calm discussion if you’re feeling stressed or anxious about your finances. But it’s important to try.

Take a step back and take a deep breath before you say anything. If you start to feel yourself getting worked up, take a break and return to the discussion when you’re feeling more level-headed.

3. Be honest:

Honesty is always the best policy—especially when it comes to money. If you’re not honest with your partner about your finances, it will only create problems down the road.

If you’re in debt, let them know. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, tell them how much you need help. The more honest you are, the easier it will be to find a solution that works for both of you.

4. Decide on a financial split:

Once you’ve had a chance to talk things over, it’s time to decide how you’re going to split the finances. It all comes down to what works for you and your partner.

While some couples choose to keep their finances separate, others may opt for one person taking on most of the financial responsibilities. There’s no wrong way to do it. Just make sure that you’re both on the same page.

5. Deal with personal debt together:

If you or your partner has a lot of personal debt, it’s crucial to deal with it together. Trying to tackle it on your own may make things harder—and it’s likely to strain your relationship.

Sit down and come up with a plan to pay off the debt. And if you’re having trouble making ends meet, consider getting help from a financial planner or debt relief specialist.

6. Consider a prenup:

A prenuptial agreement (or prenup) is a legal document that outlines how you and your partner will handle finances in the event of a divorce. While it may seem like a cold and unromantic way to start a marriage, it can be a helpful tool for couples who want to protect their assets.

Start by talking to a lawyer to see if a prenup is right for you. And if you decide to go ahead with it, make sure that you’re both honest about your finances. The last thing you want is to sign a prenup that’s not legally binding.

7. Educate yourselves on financial personalities:

You probably have a different approach to money than your partner does. And that’s okay! But it’s important to understand how your respective financial personalities can impact your relationship.

There are four major money personalities: Money avoidance, money worship, money status, and money vigilance. Each one has a different relationship with money. And knowing which category you and your partner fall into can help you find common ground.

So, start by taking a financial personality quiz. Then, discuss the results with your partner. It may help you understand each other’s money habits—and how to work together to reach your financial goals.

Enjoy your money and time together!

No matter how you choose to handle your finances, the most important thing is to enjoy your time together. Money is only one part of a relationship. So, don’t let it stress you out.

Instead, focus on what truly matters: spending time with your partner and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Jillian Schwartz

Jillian Schwartz

Jillian is a Product Marketing Manager at Stackin’ where she is passionate about helping to make finance less…finance-y. She specializes in creating content—from email campaigns to social media—that shows how everyone’s relationship with money is different (and it’s time we start talking about it in a new way). Jillian was born and raised in Minnesota but after one too many -40 degree winters, headed to the West Coast. In the Bay Area, she spends her time being obsessed with her yellow lab Posie, playing volleyball, and eating dessert after every meal.