The Money Problems Most Likely To End Relationships, According To Science

Money is a big thing. We all know that. (That’s why we’re here, both writing and reading TFD!)

In relationships, it is a bigger thing. If money can impact the health, happiness, and overall well being of one person, it comes as no shock that the impact is double when it comes to couples.

We talk a lot on TFD about how money and love coexist. Sometimes, money comes into play when we’re spending it foolishly in the name of love. Sometimes our love is the reason we have money to speak of. Sometimes, we fake love because we want or need money. Sometimes, it is the thing we set aside because the love we have for someone is bigger than their pile of debt. Sometimes, it is the very thing that tears our relationships apart.

Recently, I began thinking a lot about how money and love really correlate. We often say things like “money can ruin relationships!” And that is definitely something we can all agree upon — I mean, it makes sense that money can ruin relationships. But how is it ruining them?

I decided to look into it and find out what specific money problems are really the ones most likely to end relationships.

I am no scientist, and I’m certainly no Carrie Bradshaw, but I do have a laptop and a lot of questions. So, to the internet I went to find out, statistically, what money problems I should look out for if I want my relationship to remain rock-solid.

This 2015 Time.com article says debt should be a main concern, referring to it in the title as “The Money Problem Most Likely to Kill a Relationship.”

And this totally makes sense. In general, credit card debt is something that is seen as foolish, unattractive, and often attributed to poor, frivolous financial decisions. Student debt — perhaps a little more more socially acceptable, considering the fact that it is so common that Time even referred to it as a “condition of being young” — is even a problem. Massive student debt is seen as a liability when dating someone — it may even be a reason not to marry them. Personally, I’m in the “love trumps debt” camp, mostly because I happen to have a partner with massive debt, and don’t mind shouldering the burden a little bit in the name of love. However, it makes sense — going from “in zero debt” to “literally having negative-six-figures” after simply saying “I do” is a huge decision, and obviously a potential dealbreaker.

Luckily, the article also offers a few tips on how to prevent debt from hindering your relationship, so if you’re in this situation, it is definitely worth checking out.

But aside from debt (the obvious big one), what other money-things are big enough to actually ruin romance?

In 2016, this Psychology Today article explored five different money-scenarios that can be detrimental to your relationship’s health. Of the “5 Ways Money Issues Can Ruin Relationships”, almost all of them have to do with simply your thought process.

For example, point number two on their list is “Thinking secrets aren’t a big deal.”

In general, secrecy in relationship has the tendency to be a dealbreaker, or at very least something that leads to relationships problems down the line. There is a difference between telling a white lie that actually hurts no one, and routinely keeping secrets or deliberately leaving out important information about things while talking to your partner. Of the important conversations you may be having (or not having) with your partner, money might be the biggest one.

We make a lot of jokes about how women need to hide shopping bags from their husbands, or men don’t need to be honest about how much they really earn at their jobs, but financial secret-keeping can kill a relationship in the long run. This 2010 article from theguardian.com cites “financial infidelity” as one of the key money problems that can mess up a marriage. The article references a 2011 study, which found “that 31% of Americans who responded to a poll admitted lying to their partners about their finances.”

It also goes on to explain that the “lying” ranged from minor things, like keeping smaller, less-expensive purchases secret, to possibly “hiding something large, like a secret bank account, a gambling problem, or big debts.”

Whatever the specific case, lying and secret-keeping — especially when related to money — can lead to the demise of an otherwise solid relationship.

When entering into a relationship (especially a marriage), you are making a silent promise to be honest with your partner about all things. The same way we don’t (or shouldn’t — I’m see you, cheaters) cheat on our partners sexually or romantically, we shouldn’t be financially dishonest with them.

Money might not have the potential to ~break your heart~, but it does have the potential to change your lifestyle, kill your sense of security, and ruin many aspects of your life.

Ultimately, the key to keeping happy in your relationship when it comes to money leaving space in the relationship for open and honest conversation about money. Goals should be shared, or at least agreed upon and supported by your partner. Accounts should be shared, or at least unhidden from our partners, big expenses should be discussed, and mistakes shouldn’t be punished. Total, candid honesty — financial and otherwise — may be the difference between your relationship failing, or ultimately succeeding. And most importantly, communication should never be cut off in regard to money, even if it causes strain — money problems always come up, and if your relationship isn’t strong enough to handle them, it might not be the right relationship.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

  • I love the term “financial infidelity”! Not that I love the dishonesty, just that I think it is such a great way of describing dishonesty around money and showing how serious it really is. Also, I hate the stereotype of the wife “hiding her shopping bags from her husband” because it is so rooted in the idea that women are interested only in frivolous things (or things perceived as being frivolous) and that they don’t really have their own money. Plus, in my relationship, it would be my boyfriend who’d be tempted to hide HIS shopping bags–or more likely, his Amazon Prime boxes.

  • Jack

    This article is so important! I am a personal finance addict (I’m sure you guys are sick of all my comments by now :P) and my partners is more neutral about finances. However, he’s just gone back to school full time which has obviously resulted in a lot more conversations about how we are going to handle money in the future. I love it because I feel like you can never really have too much communication on this subject!

    • Holly Trantham

      Girl! We love your comments 🙂

      • Jack

        Aw thanks Holly. TFD is seriously what gets me through the work day. And obsessing over my YNAB budget.
        Love you guys!!

        • Are we the same person?! Haha

          • Jack

            Glad to know I’m not alone <3

  • Jay0623

    This is definitely an important article! My last relationship ended because of an argument that started over money — in my experience it’s often not the dollars and cents themselves that make or break the deal, but the issues that the money represents and brings to the forefront.

    My ex-girlfriend’s (incredibly wealthy) parents had agreed to foot the entire tuition bill so she could go to grad school and I, not being told about this, freaked out when I found out she had already been accepted to school without telling me she was applying. I was hurt over being left out of the loop and angry, too, thinking I had been put on the hook for shouldering more of the household expenses and taking on a load of secondhand debt without being consulted in the matter first. She felt guilty and didn’t want to confess that her parents were paying her way, and interpreted my anger as being unsupportive of her ambitions. In return, I felt like I wasn’t being heard or valued as an equal partner, and we had a massive fight.

    Even after we’d cleared up the facts of the money, the whole event had exposed so many bedrock problems in how we were planning for our futures that the relationship fell apart very quickly after that — we had been happy to ignore that we were on two different pages with how we wanted our futures to look, and money dragged that to the surface. It turned out she wasn’t ready to settle down yet, and I was, and we were each in denial about where the other one was at. That was the real root of the problem.

    She moved into residence and I tapped my savings to buy a condo on my own, and a year later we’re only gradually beginning to return to speaking terms. All in all, it was a very ugly mess that could have been avoided with clearer communication from the get-go, and that initial argument could have been defused if we hadn’t been so hesitant about disclosing our finances with one another.

    If you can’t talk honestly about money with your spouse, there’s bound to be other blind spots you’re missing, too!

  • K

    Wow, can a TFD article have less substance?