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Coping With Financial Stress in a Relationship

September 16th, 2022


The 2022 APA Stress in America Survey indicates that 87% of Americans are experiencing high stress related to inflation, housing costs, and increased prices of other everyday items. This is the highest it has been recorded since 2015 and is steadily increasing across age and race groups.

So what does this have to do with relationships? According to research conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, nearly half of American couples who face financial stressors indicate that it has harmed intimacy. Furthermore, as many as 7 in 10 couples who are married or living together report having disagreements over money.

The 5 main causes of financial arguments are shown to be:

  1. Needs vs wants
  2. Spending priorities
  3. Making purchases without prior discussion
  4. Dealing with debt
  5. Savings plan for large purchases

The study further found that only 56 percent of couples feel comfortable having financial conversations with their partners.

To sum it up: most of us are feeling stressed about money, fighting about it with our partners, or avoiding the topic altogether. With economic uncertainty on the rise, it is more crucial than ever to be engaging in open dialogue about finances with our partners.

Why Don't We Talk About It?

Why Don't We Talk About It?

For one, we are not taught to! Financial talk has traditionally been seen as taboo and discouraged. In addition, many of us are not taught financial literacy until we seek it out as an adult. The human brain tends to fear what it does not know, and thus, we continue to avoid it.

A lot of us carry feelings of shame, embarrassment, inadequacy, or guilt for how we grew up, our financial decisions, or how much we have in the bank. This can make conversations about finances scary or uncomfortable.

So, How Do We Do It?!

So, How Do We Do It?!

  1. Understand your finances, relationship to money, values, and goals: We must understand our relationship to money before we invite this conversation with our partners. Some questions to think about: What underlying beliefs do you have about money? How much debt are you in? What is your plan for paying it off? What are your short and long-term savings goals? What are your career goals? How do you want to prioritize your spending? This may require working with a therapist, a coach, or reading up on personal finance to better understand your relationship to money and any barriers it creates for you.
  2. Start early: from the first date, we are gathering observations about money. Who offers to pay for the check? How 'fancy' (expensive) are the date nights? Rather than relying on your assumptions of someone's relationship to finances, begin the conversation early.
  3. Start slow: ask your partner if they are willing and open to having conversations about money. This will naturally allow for space to discuss values and goals and notice whether you are aligned.
  4. As the relationship grows, deepen the level of financial intimacy: Financial expert Ramit Sethi recommends having clear, honest conversations about finances before making big life decisions together- such as moving in, getting married, or having children. Topics such as salary, net worth, debt, how to handle expenses as a couple, will you have a joint account, how much will each contribute, budgeting, and timelines should be jointly decided and understood by all parties.
  5. Do what makes sense for you: Explore, and perhaps challenge, the narratives you have learned about finances in a relationship. You do not have to do things the way your parents or your friends do. There is no one way to approach sharing finances and bills as a couple. Topics to consider are equal vs equitable with joint expenses and saving, retirement plans, and money spent on leisure.
  6. Schedule regular check-ins: your relationship intimacy, as well as your bank account, stands to benefit from ongoing conversations about money. Couples will face ongoing financial decisions throughout a relationship. Approaching and coping with them as a team requires open dialogue. Making changes to the budget? Negotiating a raise at work? Buying a new car? Planning for baby #2? You guessed it, talk about money!
  7. Seek outside support if necessary: therapists, financial coaches, or advisors can help individuals or couples navigate and cope with financial and debt stress, including financial infidelity. Avoiding the topic likely only intensifies the stress. Get a plan and take action.
Bottom Line:

Bottom Line:

It is never too early or too late to begin exploring your relationship with money. Starting is often the most intimidating part. Once the conversation is open, commit to (the sometimes uncomfortable and inconvenient) ongoing discussions with your partner. Your relationship, bank account, and mental and physical health will thank you.

Written by: Jodi Randle, LCPC, CADC.

Clarity Clinic

At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.

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