Can money woes break your heart?

Arguing about money is up there among the top reasons why couples contemplate separating. Two different approaches to managing finances are a sure-fire way to set up conflict in a relationship. Sometimes the resentment can fester for years until it is so unbearable it overrides the love you once had for your partner, and calling it quits feels long overdue.

Author of Your Money Personality Kathleen Gurney labels fighting over finances as “a silent killer, chipping away at your self-confidence”.

Here are three tell-tale signs that money problems could be about to break your heart:

Utah State University Associate Professor Jeffrey Dew found that marital satisfaction is associated with owning debt-free assets. Conversely, as debt increases, happiness decreases.  Prof Dew concluded that thrifty couples were the happiest.

“Research on marriage and money – which has focused on the influence that debt, assets, spending patterns and materialism have on marriages – suggests … that credit card debt plays a powerful role in eroding the quality of married life.

“Consumer debt fuels a sense of financial unease among couples, and increases the likelihood that they will fight over money matters; moreover, this financial unease casts a pall over marriages in general, raising the likelihood that couples will argue over issues other than money, and decreasing the time they spend with one another.”

Prof Dew said whether couples were rich, middle class or poor did not influence the impact that mounting debt had on a marriage. 

Perceptions that a partner was spending foolishly were found to affect the quality of a relationship, too. Several studies have shown that when one spouse believes the other doesn’t handle money well, they tend to report being less happy than those who do not hold that judgement.

Divorce was more likely to be considered by someone who believed cash slipped through their partner’s fingers too easily, according to research published in Journal of Marriage and the Family. In the article ‘A longitudinal study of marital problems and subsequent divorce’, the authors wrote that holding the belief that a partner was a spendthrift was a major predictor of whether the couple would divorce. The study showed that in relationships strained by money woes, 45 per cent of the marriages would dissolve. 

Keeping discretionary spending a secret from your partner puts your relationship at risk if they discover later that you have been lying.

Feeling cheated by a partner who disguises their impulsive purchases or goes back on their word to spend less has been found to elicit the same feelings of betrayal as other types of infidelity.

This is magnified if the couple have agreed to save for a goal, such as a new car or a holiday, but miss their target. When crunch time comes and there isn’t enough money to fulfil their goal because one of them has been hiding their spending, you can expect fireworks.

Some couples don’t seem to mind upping the stakes and rather than overspending will keep a stash of cash or credit that their partner doesn’t know about.

A survey of US adults by found that one in 20 Americans have secret bank accounts or credit cards. 

The poll also revealed that 19 per cent of respondents admitted to spending more than $500 without telling their partners. The admissions showed that men were almost twice as likely to have done so than women.

With statistics showing that couples who argue about finances once a week were over 30 per cent more likely to divorce than those who argued less, the chances of setting your relationship up for failure by not being on the same page financially appears to be risky.

Related articles:
Pooling your finances
Retirees worried about debt
Post-divorce financial recovery

All content on the YourLifeChoices’ website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care, but no guarantees are provided for ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness with regard to your circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances. Financial comments provided by readers cannot be relied on as professional advice, but as general comments only.

YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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