Dealing with two sensitive issues

How Are Relationships Affected by Money?

by Heather Gilmore

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Both "relationships" and "money" can be great topics of conversation, or on the other hand, they can be sensitive matters to discuss. When a person takes a look at how money may be affecting their own relationship, it can cause some conflict and tension, but it can also create an opportunity for self-observation and growth.

What is money?

Money is just money. It's simply another object we come in contact with until someone puts a meaning to that object. It was decided that money represents a certain value and could be used in exchange for other things. In addition to what we all know money is for (spending, saving, etc.), money holds another meaning that is created by each individual person. This is partially where the conflict sometimes arises in relationships in regards to money.

Each person holds a certain subconscious belief about what money means to them, what it represents. To one person, it might represent security, a future, or an escape from their childhood experiences (possibly of having not been in a home that had much money). To another person, money might represent a way to have fun, a way to "get ahead," or maybe it represents success. Another person might associate money with love. Most people don't often truly dig deep into figuring out the relationship that they have with money (how they relate and perceive money), but understanding what money means to you is beneficial to working out money issues in a relationship. When two people are in a relationship, it's likely that the meaning they associate to money is different.

How does money make conflict?

Conflict sometimes occurs in relationships in ways that can be deceiving. A couple might argue about a specific topic, such as someone not doing enough around the house. The deceiving part is that what is being argued about is sometimes not the true problem. The real problem might actually be that one person (or both partners) is feeling insecure or worried about financial issues. Sometimes when someone's insecurities are sparked, feelings and other tendencies hurry to get in to cover them up, especially feelings of anger, judgment, and criticism.

To find a solution, have a calm conversation with each other. Accept each other's feelings and actions. Accepting is not approving. Use phrases like "I feel angry that you spent that money even though we agreed not to." The person who has spent the money might say something like "I'm sorry I went against your wishes and spent the money." The next step is to decide whether you can stop there at recognizing each other's feelings or whether you need to come up with solutions. The spender might say "Maybe we could adjust the budget and I could have a little extra spending money" or "I need to work on packing my lunches for work." (if they are spending a lot on going out to eat for lunch)

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Even when a couple is not financially struggling in the sense that they are able to pay their bills and also have disposable income (extra spending money), money can still cause a disconnect between the couples. Each partner (in any income-level) has his or her own values and dreams for life. Much of the time, in today's society, fulfilling one's dreams requires at least some degree of money. When a person feels that their dreams are threatened and may not come true, then they may feel defensive or act critical of the other person in the relationship.

So, what can couples do to keep money from negatively affecting their relationship?

  • Use healthy communication strategies.
  • Create a budget together.
  • Be understanding and patient with each other, especially when someone doesn't comply with the budget.
  • Try very hard not to get defensive when your partner brings something up. (Defensiveness is one of the main factors leading to unsatisfying relationships and divorce.)

Not sure where to start with making a budget? The affordable Home Budget Spreadsheet from makes budgeting simple.

No matter your current financial situation, it is important to address money issues in a relationship. Talk to your partner. Have conversations in calm times when there isn't another significant problem going on. Being open and discussing money with each other (in healthy ways) will help you to get closer and to create and work toward goals together. Having shared goals as a couple that you actively try to achieve helps couples to stay together and have fulfilling relationships. The process is not always easy, but it is rewarding financially and emotionally, and it's good for your relationship.

Reviewed July 2017

Heather Gilmore, LLMSW. Heather has a master's degree in social work and a bachelor's degree in psychology. She has worked as a case manager and mental health therapist supporting families as they work on their goals regarding health, wellness, finances, education, careers, and parenting.

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