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Managing Financial Distress in Relationships

Financial issues are a primary source of conflict for many couples. In fact, one survey showed that conflict over money is the second most common cause of divorces among married couples.

It’s not always lack of money that causes discord between couples, though this certainly contributes to the problem in many cases.

Fights over money can be caused by differences in spending priorities, perceived inequalities in shared expenses and financial dishonesty.

Managing differences in spending priorities in a relationship

It is nearly impossible for couples to agree 100 percent about how money should be spent. If a couple can agree on a mere 75 percent of spending habits, that is a success.

Make a list of your financial values. Financial values are not often discussed between couples but should be. List the areas of spending that are most important to you.

Some examples might be “I value peace with finances: it is important for me to make consistent payments and stay ahead on bills,” or “I value security with finances: I need to have a certain amount of money in savings to feel confident in the event of an emergency.” Go down through your respective lists and notice which values you share.  Work on a plan to honor both sets of financial values.

Dealing with financial inequality in a relationship

When two people are working together to maintain a home, family and lifestyle, it can feel like a major juggling act.

For most couples, one person inevitably brings more money in, whether that is a result of wage differences, type of profession, hours worked or a number of other factors. Sometimes when a couple contributes disproportionately to the financial till, it can cause resentments or feelings of entitlement.

Regardless of whether you are the person contributing more or less of the funds, sit and talk honestly about the discrepancy.

If a topic like this becomes taboo, it can take on a life of its own. Ask the tough questions of yourself and your partner. How do you feel about the difference in our contributions to the expenses? How can I help to make this feel more equitable?

What are the pros and cons of our current financial situation and can we improve it, so we are both satisfied?

Handling dishonesty about spending in a marriage

Couples can sometimes get into an awkward situation of hiding purchases or expenses from each other. Often the source of this financial dishonesty is the knowledge that one’s partner will not approve of the use of finances for a particular purpose.

The only true solution for this is to face the problem head-on.

Make an agreement that you will remain honest about spending, even if you feel embarrassed or defensive about a particular purchase. Also make an agreement ahead of time about how you will handle frustrations with one another’s spending.

Set some ground rules about managing your frustrations; for example, set a rule that neither of you will raise your voice, or make an agreement that you will reserve judgment about one another’s choices.

Another simple solution is to budget in a certain amount of “free money” for each of you.

By setting up a predetermined amount of money for frivolous spending, this will eliminate the need for judging one another’s choices, as long as it’s within that set amount.

Set a ground rule that before you purchase something that is more than the previously agreed upon amount, that you will check in with one another about it.

This will cut back on expensive impulse purchases and may help reduce the need for dishonest spending practices.

Another solution to reduce stress about finances is to keep separate accounts and split the bills.

If each person has their own bills that they are responsible for and the remaining funds are discretionary, this can eliminate bickering about who is spending what.

This setup may not work well for some couples. Other couples who are less traditional may want to use this route to reduce a lot of stress.  Such plan would work for couples who simply do not want to be tied to a singular plan or may have more independent individual tendencies.

Financial stress does not have to destroy a relationship. With good communication and honesty, couples can develop a strategy that works for them.

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