How Money Can Mess Up A Marriage

April is tax time and, as a result, money currently is the topic of conversation in households across America. If you and your partner are in sync financially the level of stress in your relationship is probably low right now. Unfortunately, finances are one of the two major problem areas affecting marriage. The other is intimacy (which will be addressed in a future series). This month I will examine how issues relating to money can do serious damage to your relationship. (For articles relating to other topics go to¬† This article, addresses how the ideas we each have about money influence our own financial behavior as well as the expectations we have regarding our partner’s behavior.

In their book Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin state,Money is life energy.We expend energy by working and receive money in return. We then use this money to buy things we need or want. Money is neither good nor bad. It is merely the currency we use to get desired goods and services. So why then is it the source of so much tension and distress in marriage.

One of the main reasons this occurs is that instead of looking at money as a means to an end, we imbue it with a sense of power; we define ourselves by it. Many of life’s decisions are determined by how much we have. It determines the house we live in, the car we drive, the clothes we wear and how we spend our free time. We use it as a means to measure our self worth and as a way to define our priorities. The problems come in when we and our partner have different definitions.

Disagreements involving money arise from multiple sources:

  • How much money does the household have?
  • Who makes more: husband or wife?
  • How is the money managed?
  • Who makes purchasing decisions?
  • Do we save or spend?
  • How is debt handled?
  • What kind of lifestyle do we want?

How couples address these questions will determine how finances impact their marital happiness. The more disagreement they have on these issues, the less harmonious their relationship will be.

Many of us look at money and finance from a very personal perspective. What we do with our money is often viewed as an extension of ourselves. It is a barometer of our values, desires and priorities. What we have is viewed as a reflection of who we are, especially in this society. Thus, any discussion we have about our financial circumstances is emotionally laden. When we open the door to that part of ourselves we lay ourselves bare. Is it any wonder that money is a source of tension in a marriage? We want our partner to see things our way so we don’t have to delve too deeply into our reasons for wanting it that way. Having to explain or defend our financial decisions leaves us open to the judgment of others. If that person is our spouse it can create defensiveness in ourselves and stress in the relationship.

This issue of how we define money and how it defines us will be discussed in the next week’s article. But make no mistake, it is these definitions which impact the role money plays in our marriages.

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