Reasons money causes relationship problems

Jonathan Swinton

Have you ever heard that money issues are one of the most common causes of marital problems? My experience working with troubled marriages has shown that financial disagreements, though common, are more accurately a symptom of differences in upbringing and other underlying problems. The money itself is not the real issue. So what are the real issues?

1. Money means something different to each of you. Frequently money means or symbolizes something different to you than your spouse. There are several ways to consider what money may mean to you. For example, if one of you was raised in a family that generally had enough money to cover most things, money may not have been a big stress. In contrast, if the other was raised in a family where money was tight, and sacrifices were a regular part of life, money likely meant very different things. The spouse from the more affluent family may not stress as much when spending money, while the one from the less affluent family may feel extreme anxiety even buying groceries. What was money like in your family growing up? What other experiences with money have you had in your life that may have shaped what it symbolizes for you? If both you and your spouse can explore these questions together, you may get some clarity on why financial friction exists. 

2. You see the money you earn as yours. A common trend I see with couples that argue about money has to do with who the money belongs to. If you feel the money you earn should be yours, I suggest you try to see any money earned by you or your spouse as shared. Work to see your money, accounts and all possessions as ours, not yours.

3. You don’t talk about money with your spouse or partner. Money is one of those touchy issues that couples too often avoid. The avoidance is often rooted in not wanting to upset the other, not wanting to face the fears that may be related to the current financial situation, or not wanting to ask permission to do something with the money. In all these cases, the avoidance will only make things worse. Even if the outlook is difficult, avoiding it doesn’t change reality. Rather, avoiding it just ensures that you will not be on the same page as your spouse in dealing with the issue. If you are worried about permission, perhaps you already know the answer. It is important to maintain transparency and make decisions in a unified way. Make a budget together, focusing on the goals and desires of everyone. 

4. You spend more than you earn. The simplest way to avoid money problems in relationships is to live within your means. The ATV, newer car, or brand name products from the grocery store may look appealing. However, you should ask yourself if the stress of paying for it is worth the toll on your relationship. Nothing is more valuable than a healthy marriage.

Dr. Swinton is a relationship and mental health expert with Utah State University Extension in Sevier County. If you have questions you would like him to confidentially address in this column, email him at jonathan.swinton@usu.edu.

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