Updated: Nov 28
Money is often one of the most common sources of conflict and stress in a marriage. Many couples argue, stress, and even divorce over money matters. How often and why do couples fight over money? How does money affect marital quality, stability, and satisfaction?
Here are some evidence-based insights on whether money is a big issue in marriage.
Money is a frequent and problematic source of marital conflict
Money troubles can often lead to headaches and heartaches in marriages. Picture a tug of war over financial issues, and you'll understand how it can shake up the happiness and harmony in a relationship.
Back in 2012, researchers Dew, Britt, and Huston embarked on a journey to uncover how arguing over finances could impact marital bliss over time. What they found was a bit unsettling: couples that frequently squabbled over money typically ended up less satisfied with their marriages, and were more likely to call it quits.
Just four years later, another duo of researchers, Doherty and Simmons, painted a similar picture. They discovered that financial stress, like a mountain of debt, no job, or a skinny paycheck, was a primary cause of marital disagreements. As financial pressures increased, so did the frequency of squabbles between partners.
It's clear then, that money woes have a way of creeping into and wreaking havoc in marriages, causing tension to rise and harmony to plummet. This underlines the importance of good old conversation and smart money moves to keep the love, and the finances, sailing smoothly.
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Money affects marital quality in different ways
Whether or not money can buy happiness is debatable. However, it is widely understood that money provides more financial security, reducing marital stress.
Money may provide a sense of security and stability that enhances marital quality. Couples with more assets (such as savings, investments, or property) at the beginning of marriage were more likely to be happier with their marriage and argue less frequently.
Did you know that marriage can be the ultimate wealth hack?
Anyhow, couples with more debt (such as credit card debt or student loans) at the beginning of their marriage often report lower marital satisfaction levels and higher marital conflict over time.
Why? Debt may create a sense of burden and strain that undermines how happy and secure couples feel in marriage.
Money predicts marital distress and divorce
Money is not only a source of marital conflict but also a predictor of divorce and marital distress. Marriage quality may be undermined by economic pressure and stress.
Couples with higher levels of financial disagreements in their first marriage are less satisfied with their relationship and have a higher level of marital conflict in the future. Furthermore, couples with more financial problems at the beginning of their marriage were more likely to divorce after 12 years.
The tools and concepts couples possess to manage money do not always reduce the financial challenges couples face, but they do equip couples with ideas to manage challenges which in turn reduces friction in marriage.
Learn the impact money has on the health of your marriage. Try this quick 10 question quiz.
Couples who are on the same page financially can manage money problems with less marital strain
Financial compatibility affects financial disagreements within marriages. There are fewer disagreements and conflicts related to money matters among couples with similar financial values and goals.
When faced with financial challenges, aligning financial perspectives led to greater understanding, compromise, and effective problem-solving.
Clearly, couples on the same page financially have an easier time navigating money problems, reducing marital strain. We have shared ideas in the past for folks who want to get on the same financial page but are not sure where to start:
How can we reduce the stress that accompanies economic hardships?
There are several common characteristics and practices among couples who do not engage in frequent money arguments. These factors contribute to healthy financial dynamics within their relationship:
Shared financial goals
Open and honest communication
Do not lie or deceive your partner about money
Share similar financial values, attitudes, and priorities
Effective financial planning and budgeting
Mutual respect and a willingness to work through differences with compromise
Regular check-ins and financial reviews (money dates)
Pool their money into one household budget
Being on the same financial page is an ongoing process
Modern Husbands Newsletter
Every couple of weeks, we share our newsletter with popular money and marriage articles, humor from our social media channels, recent podcasts and lifestyle ideas. Subscribers receive as gifts an interactive eBook on budgeting for couples and two courses to help couples budget and save together.
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Modern Husbands Podcast
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Listen to national experts share evidence-based ideas to manage money and the home as teammates by subscribing to the Modern Husbands Podcast. Here are some podcasts to listen to right now.
How to reduce money-induced stress and anxiety in relationships
Guest: Sonya Lutter, Ph.D., CFP®, LMFT
Professor of Practice, Director of Financial Health and Wellness, Ph.D. Program Director
School of Financial Planning at Texas Tech University
Dr. Lutter shares how to reduce money induced stress and anxiety in relationships.
Sonya Lutter holds a Ph.D., CFP®, and LMFT and serves as the inaugural Director of Financial Health and Wellness at Texas Tech University. She leads curriculum and continuing education opportunities in the areas of financial psychology, financial therapy, and financial behavior. Dr. Lutter is also the owner of EnLite.World, a research and training consultancy firm for financial planners and therapists. Her work is regularly featured in major news outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Click here for the show notes.
Closing the Behavioral Gaps of Managing Money with Your Spouse
Guest: Dr. Michael Thomas
Michael Gene Thomas is a Lecturer at the University of Georgia. He teaches Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics. His research involves understanding what factors influence financial well-being across socio-economic status and how to optimize those factors through evidenced-based interventions or therapeutic methods. Dr. Thomas has won numerous teaching awards. Click here for the show notes.
How to Talk About and Manage Money with Your Spouse - Dr. Megan McCoy
Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT is an adjunct faculty member at Kansas State University where she teaches courses for the Financial Therapy Certificate Program. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Sciences with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Georgia. Her research interests truly focus on Financial Therapy and how to create more empirical evidence to support work that she has seen change so many lives in her clinical experiences. Click here for the show notes.
Archuleta, K. L., Britt, S. L., & Tonningsen, S. (2012). Financial disagreements and marital satisfaction: The role of financial knowledge and financial behaviors. Journal of Financial Therapy, 3(2), 1–18.
Copur, Zeynep. (2014). The relationship between financial issues and marital relationship. International Journal of Arts and Sciences. 7. 683-698.
Doherty, E. M., & Simmons, L. A. (2016). Couple money conflicts and marital satisfaction: A moderated mediation model. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 37(1), 44–58.
Dew, J. P., Britt, S. L., & Huston, S. J. (2012). Examining the relationship between financial issues and divorce. Family Relations, 61(4), 615–628.
GORMAN, E. H. (2000). Marriage and Money: The Effect of Marital Status on Attitudes Toward Pay and Finances. Work and Occupations, 27(1), 64–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/0730888400027001004
Meloy, M. G., & Culpepper, C. L. (2019). The impact of financial planning and financial conflict on relationships. Journal of Financial Therapy, 10(1), 1–19.
Papp, Lauren M et al. “For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home.” Family relations vol. 58,1 (2009): 91-103. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2008.00537.x
Xiao, J. J., Li, X., & Tang, C. (2011). Money, communication, and relationship satisfaction: The mediating and moderating roles of financial management behaviors. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(4), 668–679.