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Understanding financial struggles in relationships

Updated: Jun 11

Arguments about money are a commonly reported source of stress for partners in an intimate relationship. Indirect detrimental effects from financial stress could lead to multiple health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. Research also suggests a relationship between financial stress and levels of marital satisfaction, where “financial stressors have been found to predict lower levels of marital satisfaction, higher levels of marital distress, decreased marital quality, and higher rates of divorce.”

It’s clear that stress relating to money is an ever-present struggle for many. However, this stress can be managed by focusing on certain key aspects of what creates and maintains a healthy relationship, such as healthy communication and positivity. Here's what you need to know about financial struggles in relationships:

Money is often not the heart of the matter

There is no doubt that financial problems are a major source of stress for couples. However, struggles relating to money in and of themselves are often not the main reason behind arguments and breakdowns in relationships. It is important for a couple to consider whether there are deeper underlying issues popping up and “disguised” as conflict about finances.

Deep issues such as trust, personality and family background dynamics, decision-making tactics and differences in what money means to each person can potentially steer a conversation off-course and lead to build-up of resentment if the “real” issues are not identified and addressed. Learning with each other how to manage difficulty is a key factor to relationship success. How couples communicate, manage their feelings, nurture positive parts of their relationship when in the middle of conflict and when not in conflict, are essential skills and goals which are beneficial to couple health and happiness.

Make financial stress an opportunity to be a relationship builder

Problem-solving isn’t just about coming up with solutions or delegating and compromising tasks to get to a goal. The ability to work towards resolution of money troubles involves being able to put our finger on the specific problems at hand, identify and understand emotions that come up and why, really know and understand your partner, and get good at decreasing tension.

Regulating emotions is a vital skill individuals need to ensure they can do for themselves and as part of supporting their partner when things start to get too heated. Recognizing your “edge” and knowing your partner’s “edge” is important in stopping both your autonomic nervous systems from pushing you past your emotional limit, often leading to outward aggression, uncontrollable tears, or other challenging behaviours.

When we’re over our “edge,” we are unable to process information logically and become simply reactive, kicking us out of problem-solving mode. When we feel frustrated and stressed while talking about money problems, we may start to raise our voices, blame, get defensive or withdraw, among many other unhelpful behaviours. These behaviours tend to arise from automatic and learned patterns and are a normal part of becoming frustrated that happens during moments of stress. Tempering our nervous system’s response when it kicks into high gear is a key conflict management skill along with really knowing your partner, their personality, and their needs.

Draw on hope and remember you are not alone

Money-related problems within a couple’s relationship are common and difficult to tread at times, but they don’t have to be. It can be a time to check-in and gauge your relationship. Be patient with yourselves and build your sense of kindness towards yourself and your partner. Problem-solving often does not happen immediately and can take time with multiple small doable steps to realize over the long term. If you’ve had difficulty for a long time and resentment has built to the point where all this is too hard, consider seeking couple therapy. Self-compassion and compassion for your partner are huge diffusers of stress and mental health-related problems.

When you can agree with your partner on how to handle disagreements and talk about stressful situations such as finances, plus provide each other with large and regular doses of caring positivity, you will have the main ingredients to get through your hard times while building the foundation for a lasting relationship.

If you're ready to seek therapy for relationship struggles, reach out to your EFAP for support. We're here to help.


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