3 Financial Problems That Hurt Couple Relationships

by Ashley Eneriz · 17 comments

A very common issue with couple finances is that both spouses are not on the same page. Money stresses are all around us, and it’s all too easy for these to seep into our marriages and ruin relationships.

Is your financial committment on the rocks with your spouse? Here are three money-related problems that burden a marriage and how to overcome them.

1. His and Her Accounts

Before I get too far into this, I do understand that some couples have very serious financial or personal issues that require separate accounts (such as gambling, or family assets). So, I’m not addressing these couples.

I personally know three different sets of couples that have separate banking accounts. The first are newlyweds, the second couple has been married for several years with two children, and the third couple is in their eighties and married for over 60 years.

You think the odds of one of them having success with separate bank accounts would be at least 1:3, but the truth is that all three have problems with it. I truly think the issue with separate banking accounts boils down to having a separate pot of his and her money.

Even if both spouses are not financially wise, there needs to be unity. When you say “I Do”, you should be making it our money, our debt, and our expenses. Having separate bank accounts reinforces the idea that one spouse should pay for the debt they had before marriage, which can cause a lot of bitterness and resentment.

Furthermore, splitting the bills can rob a marriage of its joy. It’s a bit humorous to watch two eighty-year-olds squabble over who has to pay for breakfast. But when it comes to the more serious expenses such as unexpected medical bills or surprise home repairs, separate accounts can lead to unnecessary fights and put a wall between the couple.

Can separate accounts and an amazing marriage work together? Yes, I have no doubt about it, but sadly these stories are few and far apart.

Couples should be united in their finances, but this doesn’t happen overnight for many. It may take counseling sessions and financial classes taken together to get on the same page.

2. Nagging Each Other

No one likes to be nagged, yelled at, or spoken down to, and this applies to every aspect of life – finances, household duties, etc. Even if your spouse has proven to be incompetent with their finances, treating them like a child and constantly nagging will not change the situation.

It will only make things worse. So what do you do instead? First off, think and treat your spouse like an equal even if they’re ruining the finances or if he does not make the same amount of income as you.

Next, figure out how you both can be on the same financial page together, whether that means counseling, weekly financial meetings, or keeping each other accountable to sticking to a budget.

Then, work it out together, with no nagging, fighting, finger-pointing, etc. Become each other’s advocate instead of each other’s enemy.

3. Lying to Hide Spending

My mother was the queen of lying about purchases and secret credit cards. We all know what happens with one small lie. It grows into a bigger one and multiplies into other lies until one day you’re stuck in a deep, dark hole.

If you’re guilty of this, I encourage you to humbly come clean to your partner. It will be painful and ugly, but it can lead to the true financial freedom and freedom of guilt that you desire.

Create a space of trust and openness with your special someone, so they know that you care enough to work this out and fix the financial issues. Lying to hide spending is usually a symptom of something (likely pain, hurt, or depression), so listen to their confession without judgment.

It Can Be Done

These are not easy financial situations to talk about or remedy when your marriage is facing financial trouble.

Everyone’s money story and marriage is different, so it’s hard to give general advice that will apply to every couple. Because of this, I want to hear your thoughts, experience, and personal opinions about you handle these financial issues in your relationship.

How do you and your spouse handle money? Have you faced one of these issues? What advice do you have on dealing with it?

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  • Julia says:

    In an ideal world, there should one account. But we don’t live in an ideal world. There are many reasons why a single account may not work throughout a marriage for a season during the marriage, notably at the beginning. One compromise is three accounts: his, hers, and ours.

    The couple agrees on an amount to be distributed into the individual accounts and the balance is deposited into the shared accounts. Or the household bills and unexpected needs are determined for the month, the spouses agree on mutual contributions and the balance is distributed into the individual accounts. Or a mutually agreed upon distribution in the middle.

    If there is only one breadwinner, the plan is funded through that one account. A stay-at-home spouse’s account grows as does the working spouse. If both spouses are working, the paycheck is distributed as agreed upon into the single and joint account.

    Both parties have visual access to the other’s account and visual and withdrawal access to the shared account, as well as joint participation in the development of the budgets for the three accounts. Weekly budget meetings. Shared financial goals. And the individual accounts allow for surprise gifts and self-care without requiring “prior permission” but allows for post-disclosure.

    As trust develops or circumstances require change, changes are made to the three accounts through mutual agreement.

    • EdG says:

      We also have 3 accounts. A combined account and 2 accounts where we deposited income outside the normal jobs; bonuses, teaching, personal ebay item income, etc. We get to do what we want without permission with these accounts. We also had a CD come due and we split it among the 3 because my better half was asking when will she get to spend the money we saved. A couple is not always on the same page with their value systems. For example, I could buy a nice sofa from Costco or Macy for say 2K, my wife insists on a 4K sofa, so she make up the difference from her account. It’s not perfect but it’s a reasonable compromise.

  • Don says:

    When my wife and I married a little more than a year ago, we kept our finances separate since we had a good amount of money between us. At first, everything was fine, but then we started to realize we really weren’t “one” if we had completely separate accounts. It was “yours” or “mine” and not “ours”. So our first goal for this year was to open up a joint checking and savings account. So far so good, and it is nice to have an “ours”.

    • Caro says:

      That’s a good idea – if one or both of you have assets that predate the marriage that you prefer to keep separate, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, it’s totally legit, but of course it’s the honesty around it that’s the thing, the bit where you talk it over openly. Really and truly, the mindset of ”our goals” takes some time to get to for a lot of couples, where whatever each one gets is for the benefit of the unit (kids too, if those ever come into the picture, but equally close family members, such as ageing parents in some cases). Again, no quibble with having some independent accounts just for you or your wife, but secrecy is corrosive and that is where resentment and deceitful behaviour starts.

      My husband and I have quite different attitudes and backgrounds re money in some ways, but we’ve always had the bulk of what each of us earns in the main pot, for us both to freely access and have 360 visibility over.

  • Jana says:

    I am writing to tell you how my husband and I deal with our money. We have been married for almost 14 yrs.When we got married he was working and I wasn’t,He open a bank account in both our names and until I found work he gave money in case there was something I wanted. We only knew each other for 3 wks. before we got married. We have seperate accounts but from the beginning we split the bills cause we are both are on disability and he gets one on the 3 that pays the rent.

  • dojo says:

    We have ‘separate’ bank accounts (created when we weren’t married), but we’re sharing EVERYTHING, so all the bills, plans and savings are done together. We always know what’s in our accounts and plan accordingly. We clearly don’t nag each other and never lied (it’s indeed a huge mistake). We do have joint accounts, too.

    • caroline says:

      I think what the author refers to with separate accounts is when all finances are kept separate and there’s no joint account in the mix. I would say most of us have accounts in just our names, but if there’s no ”us” account from where the bills and day-to-day general stuff gets administered, that often is a symptom of an underlying issue. I know a couple… now divorcing… who insisted from day one on totally separate accounts with the bills getting split totally evenly *and checked very keenly by each partner to make sure they were fairly divided*. Even things like maternity leave were ”financed” by first one, then the other… they squabbled and bickered over things like ”who paid for so-and-so’s birthday present and now YOU OWE ME xyz”. They were living like housemates, no sense of team or sharing. From my perspective, this is wholly different from having your own account for personal stuff and then also a joint one for joint things and being open and relaxed about it.

      • Ashley says:

        Yes, this is definitely what I meant. How petty for a couple to squabble over who paid for a birthday present, yet I know it happens a lot. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

        • Caroline says:

          It was next-level. Inevitably, one was much more generous and just made up the little shortfalls, while the other was extremely guarded and bean-counting and absolutely determined that not one extra cent should be wrestled that wasn’t evenly matched. Very distasteful. And of course it spilled over into everything else: you ”got to go” to movies with your friends and were gone for 2.45 hours while I watched the kids? RIGHT. I’m going out for 2.45 hours because IT’S MY TURN NOW.

          It was extremely unhealthy.

      • Slinky says:

        I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter what sort of account set up you have as long as your relationship is good and you’re both on the same page. Finances make a lot of underlying issues come to the surface, but they aren’t necessarily the actual issue. Your friends may have had separate accounts, but the real issue was probably not having a sense of being teammates and sharing and putting the other person first.

        • Caroline says:

          Absolutely correct. Finances and the emotional stuff around finances goes deeper than simple money, and often signals an innate mistrust and guarded attitude to what should be your ride-or-die in this life. Now, in some cases, where a partner has shown themselves to be very irresponsible or financially disastrous, then adjustments need to be made, but in general, honesty and wanting to share is part of a happy marriage, not just financially, but generally, rather than it being a competition and a determination to ”get my share”.

  • Emily says:

    Nagging comes up from time to time in our relationship. Usually it’s a sign that the budget doesn’t reflect how we want to spend our money anymore and that it’s time to make a change. Usually all it takes is a sit down to go over our priorities together to make sure we’re on the same page again. We’ve always talked about money (I helped him make his first budget back when we were dating) and I think it’s helped us avoid any major blowouts!

    • Ashley says:

      Thank you so much for sharing. I know I have had my fair share times of nagging too. You are so right, it is usually a sign that we just need to change things up a bit.

  • Joe Leone says:

    Very interesting article – in regards to “His and Her Accounts,” specifically, while it does seem sensical to unite finances in an effort to exhibit a mutual trust (as a further symbol of the bond two married people share), there seems to be a consensus from many lawyers/financial advisors that separate accounts are a necessity for security. Even in the unlikely case of a divorce from a seemingly happy couple, there needs to be some sort of financial net for the lesser earner to fall back on.

  • Dewald says:

    This is so true. Man and wife are one and should live in unity. Therefore they should have one account. The question is who is in charge of that account. A wife should submit to her husband but if the wife is better at managing finances then she should be in charge.

    • Caroline says:

      Very few women believe they need to ”submit” to their husbands, but a jointly-held account and a common approach to priorities and spending / life management is definitely a big thing.

      I do agree that whoever is better at the day-to-day managing of bills and money should do it, because it keeps it all in one place, but the other partner should have access and a say and visibility.

      It’s secrecy and deceit that seems to be the problem, same for fidelity and all those other deal-breakers: lying and cheating and acting selfishly just kill a marriage!

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