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Money And Emotions: Why Money Matters To The Health Of Your Relationships

September 5, 2022

Illustration of a heart beat chart with a dollar sign

We’ve all heard the saying that money doesn't buy love. And when you’re newly dating, discussions about finances may not be a big factor in your conversations. 

But as time goes by – and things get more serious – most couples come to realize just how much of an impact money has on the health of their relationship. For example, no matter how much you love one another, a lack of money can put a serious strain on a marriage or a committed relationship. Even if money availability is not an issue in the relationship, not being on the same page about how to use it can also lead to problems.

On the positive side, working together to effectively use and manage finances can greatly enhance and enrich your relationship. That’s why, in this article, we’re going to go deeper into why money matters to the health of your relationships – and what you can do to make money work for you rather than against you in your relationship.

The Connection Between Money Issues And Emotional Health In Relationships

This is part two in our series on money and relationships. Catch up on part one here.

According to Ed Coambs – Certified Financial Therapist and author of the book The Healthy Love and Money Way: How the Four Attachment Styles Impact Your Financial Well-Being – emotional health is the ability to experience the full palate of human emotions, including sadness, fear, anxiety, and others. That doesn’t mean becoming swept up in them, but recognizing that you’re experiencing emotions so that you can respond in adaptive ways.

So how are emotional health (in the context of a relationship) and money issues related? Coambs explains that money issues are essentially emotional issues. Indeed, though most of us would like to believe that the way we deal with or approach money in relationships is entirely logical, that’s not usually the case. Like many other issues in relationships, most money issues are usually rooted in emotions.

If you can’t deal with emotions in a healthy way – or don’t know how to do so – you won’t deal with money issues well either. For example, in unemotionally unhealthy relationships, the first thing that many couples do when they experience money issues or tension is to lash out or act in a controlling way. 

The situation is often entirely different for those in emotionally healthy relationships. Instead of acting out, attacking, or trying to control their partner when money issues arise, they take time to reflect on their emotions and then respond in a level-headed way.

For example, if you often find yourself trying to control your partner’s spending, there is usually a deeper emotional issue at play. That emotion could be insecurity about your own or your partner's finances, or it could stem from mistrust of your partner's ability to spend money wisely.

Instead of trying to control your partner, the emotionally healthy approach would be to look at why you’re insecure or mistrust your partner's ability to spend money and address that. 

How Money Can Create Unhealthy Dynamics In Relationships

Money issues can cause a lot of unhealthy dynamics in relationships. Here are a few ways that can happen.

When One Person Earns More Than The Other

When one partner earns more than the other, that person might feel a sense of entitlement in the relationship because of their higher-earning status. They may feel like they should have more say in the relationship because of this status. 

Alternatively, suppose their higher earning status means that they’re contributing more towards household bills and expenses, or that they’re solely responsible for footing the entire household’s bills. In that case, they may become resentful of their partner for not contributing equally. They may expect the lower-earning partner to compensate for their lower income in other ways, such as by taking on more household responsibilities.

The person earning less, meanwhile, may feel guilty or ashamed about not earning as much as their partner and thus not contributing an equal share. This can lead to them constantly being on the lookout for ways to demonstrate how "important" they are to the relationship.

Mismatched Ideas On How To Save, Invest, And Spend

In a relationship where one person is a saver and the other is a spender, the risk exists that an unhealthy dynamic will develop. The spender in the relationship might start to see the saver as cheap, while the saver might think the spender is frivolous. Both partners can become increasingly resentful of one another because of their vastly different money habits.

The best way to avoid this dynamic is to learn to respect each other’s styles and to compromise on a middle ground. The spender, for example, could set up an automatic bank transfer to a joint savings account each month and then be allowed some freedom to splurge on a few items here and there. This is ultimately just one example —the key is to have an open and healthy conversation with your partner to figure out what works best for the two of you.

Financial Instability

A study by Ally Bank found that 84% of Americans agree that romantic relationships are stronger and more satisfying when financially stable.

When money is tight, it can put a strain on many areas of your relationship. If you’re stressed about money, you may be less patient with your partner or less interested in intimacy. Money troubles can lead to arguments about spending, saving, and financial goals. These disagreements can quickly escalate and lead to feelings of resentment, frustration, and even despair, ultimately creating a toxic dynamic in the relationship.

How To Turn Unhealthy Dynamics Into Unhealthy Ones

Money can clearly create unhealthy dynamics in a relationship when there is a disparity in  earning power, differing money values or mind-sets, or even when there isn’t enough money in the relationship. So how can couples turn things around or prevent money issues from poisoning a relationship? Coambs has a few suggestions.

Have Actual Money Conversations

Money conversations can be difficult and awkward, but they're essential for a healthy relationship. Couples who talk frequently about money are happier than those who only rarely talk about money or even never talk about it.

If you’re experiencing a negative emotion in your relationship because of finances – e.g., shame for not being able to contribute as much as your partner, or even anger because of a financial decision that your partner made – the best approach is to have actual conversations with your partner about your feelings. Only by talking can you address the issues and hopefully establish a solution or remedy.

In a recent survey of 1,500 people conducted by Happy Money, responses showed that money becomes less of a taboo topic when couples talk about it frequently. In a study that focused on the importance of communicating about finances with your significant other, only 27% of people who talk to their partners about finances at least monthly reported feeling stressed when doing compared to 54% of those who communicate less stressful.

Build And Practice Financial Empathy

According to Coambs, being able to put yourself in your partner's shoes is one of the biggest skills that couples need to develop in order to enjoy their financial life together. That also involves recognizing and appreciating personality differences that have an effect on how one views and uses money.

Synchronize Finances

Combining finances, like opening a joint bank account and paying bills as a single household instead of splitting them between couples or taking turns, is another effective way to change unhealthy dynamics into healthy ones.

When you are in a relationship, try not to treat money as “my money” and “your money”. Instead, treat it as “our money”. Combining finances shows that both of you are fully invested in the relationship and with one another and it can strengthen your bond.

How To Set Up A Healthy Foundation For Dealing With Financial Issues Before Marriage

Before you tie the knot with your partner, there are several things you can do to set up a healthy foundation for dealing with financial issues down the road.

1. Understand your own money experiences before you get into marriage
Many of us have our own unique relationship with money that has been influenced by our upbringing and various life circumstances. Understanding your own money story can help set up a strong foundation for dealing with financial issues in your marriage.

Perhaps you grew up in a family where money was always tight, and you had to be careful with every cent. Or maybe you never had to worry about money growing up and could spend it freely. Talk about your upbringing and background with your partner and try to understand where they are coming from as well.

Knowing how previous events or experiences might have shaped your views about money can help you be more understanding and patient with one another if you have vastly different backgrounds. It can also help you identify any potential future points of conflict. If you're aware of potential sources or causes of money conflict ahead of time, you can be proactive about finding solutions that work for both of you before you officially tie the knot.

2. Face the fear
Many people experience the fear of losing financial control or autonomy when they get married. This is a completely natural feeling, but to set up a healthy foundation for dealing with financial issues in your marriage, it's a fear you need to overcome. If you can't face the fear of losing control, it will be difficult to manage your finances together.

After all, when you're married, it’s no longer about you alone. You will be sharing your life with someone else and will have to make decisions together.

Instead of seeing marriage as a loss of financial autonomy or independence, try to view it as a partnership in which both of you will be working together towards common goals.

3. Disclose your full financial circumstances to one another
The best way to enter into a partnership is with full knowledge and awareness of each other’s financial circumstances. The last thing you want, for example, is to get married and then discover that your partner is carrying a $100,000 student debt they expect you to help pay off.

Share your financial assets and liabilities, and then make a decision on how you’re going to manage them once you’re officially married. This can help you avoid nasty surprises later on that can lead to issues.

4. Get professional advice or counseling
Seeking the services of a professional financial therapist can also help set a healthy foundation for dealing with financial issues. 

Financial therapy, for example, can help both partners get to the root of their financial issues and recommend or prescribe ways of having a better relationship with money on both a personal and a relationship level. 

Being Financially Aligned For A Healthier Relationship

Money has the potential to be a big source of stress and conflict in a relationship.

If handled well, however, money can be a positive force that contributes to the overall health and well-being of your relationship. Apart from just helping you deal with the practical stuff like paying bills, it can also be used to create shared experiences that strengthen the bond between you and your partner.