Understanding Financial Stress

It’s no surprise that many of the couples we work with in our Bethesda MD couples’ therapy have arguments about their finances. It’s well-known that money is among the very top of the list of topics that cause distress in relationships, and for good reason – money is a pervasive and stressful aspect of everyday life that has major consequences for other areas. While it’s true that “money can’t buy happiness”, it’s also true that a lack of funds necessary to supply your needs can greatly increase stress and tension in any household. In fact, according to the New York Times, a study by Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University shows that couples who fight over money regularly are 30% more likely to get divorced. Yikes!

Why do arguments about money feel so insurmountable? The key to remember is that, although you’re talking about dollar amounts, the meaning that you and your partner attach to money is much deeper. Money signifies things such as security, status, pleasure, control, and other values that individuals hold. If you’re having trouble agreeing on whether to put your tax return in savings or to spoil yourselves with a vacation – it could be because you and your partner have different core values, and these can feel threatened when your partner wants to spend money, or resources, differently. Often, these values are at least partially adopted from our families of origin, where we learned our family’s habits of how money is used and what is valued most highly. Money can also symbolize power, which can bring up issues of self-esteem if one doesn’t feel they have an equal footing financially.

When you can begin to understand the deeper meaning you place on money, share this with your partner– in couples counseling or at home– and try to understand their core values as well. This understanding can help you empathize with one another and make financial decisions together that better fulfill both of your needs. Inherent in this practice, and recommended for discussions about finances in general, is honest and open communication with your partner. Many financial arguments arise when one partner purchases something unexpectedly, or when one partner doesn’t share financial information with another. These situations can begin to be resolved by simply having an honest discussion with your partner about your income, expenses, and expectations for how money is spent and handled (bills paid, etc.). One step further would be to create a budget with your partner as well as to agree upon some general “rules”, such as whether a big purchase must be discussed with your partner beforehand, etc.

When you can work together to set financial goals, it will be easier to support each other in reaching them. It’s also important to cater to your individual strengths – if one person is talented in keeping things organized and paying bills and the other is a great bargain shopper, play to your strengths and complete the task most suited to you – and both reap the benefits! If you’re in a tough place financially, try to brainstorm ways that you might be able to solve the problem. In addition, think of some fun free or cheap things that you can do together as a couple – it will be important to spend quality time together, and there are many ways to do this that cost next to nothing.

In the end, money can always be stressful. Accepting that and working through these strategies can help you and your partner overcome the grip that money can have on your relationship. If you have specific financial questions or feel you need more advice in this area, it can be helpful to consult a financial professional; if you and your partner can’t seem to get past your financial arguments, we at Lindsey Hoskins and Associates are here to help with couples therapy services in Bethesda MD.