Couples And Money: When Love Can’t Keep You Together

valentines unhappyDo you and your partner see eye-to-eye when it comes to money?

If so, your love may stand a better chance than couples who disagree often about finances.

Couples who reported disagreeing about finances once a week were over 30 percent more likely to get divorced than couples who reported disagreeing about finances a few times a month,” says a study by Utah State University researchers.

In fact, frequent financial disagreements in a couple were the “best predictors” of  divorce, said the study, as they often encapsulate conflicts over values, control and respect for a partner’s choices.

Money is the No. 1 reason couples argue. Here are the biggest flashpoints:


“Couples often don’t see eye to eye on how much debt is too much and which kind of debt is bad,” says financial writer Aleksandra Todorova.

In today’s economy, the problem is compounded when one party  comes into the marriage with a lot more debt than the other, from credit cards, student loans, real estate, or even previous marriage commitments.

Work together on a plan to pay off the debt, and understand – before going into the relationship – how your partner’s debt can impact your financial lives.


When one spends, and the other saves, the road will often lead to conflict.  The best way to solve the impasse is to agree on a household budget and jointly agree on larger and discretionary purchases (say, over $200). Make sure the “fun” spending money is divvied up equally, to make sure – for example – that his expensive Super Bowl trip doesn’t wipe out her plans for a summer family vacation with the kids.

Too much togetherness

Some couples pool all their finances, while others keep meticulously separated counts (especially true in second marriages).  However you choose to do it is fine, but make sure you’re both comfortable with your choice. Once funds are pooled, there may be no going back, and combining finances has serious consequences in the event of a later break-up. Make sure you both have access to “me” money that you can spend however you see fit to avoid the feeling of being trapped or controlled.


Even younger couples should be roughly on the same page when it comes to retirement plans.  A recent survey conducted by Fidelity found that 38% of working couples disagree on the lifestyle they expect to lead in retirement. Over one-third disagree or don’t know where they want to live in retirement. One-third also disagree on whether they’ll want or need to be working into retirement.

Money secrets

Over a third of men and women have on occasion hidden their spending from a spouse. It could be a fairly innocuous fib (saying you spent less than you really did on those designer jeans) or a truly monumental lie (you’ve lost the entire family retirement kitty on a bad investment). The best solution: be upfront about money decisions, and schedule periodic “family board meetings” to review accounts.

Who’s in charge?

It’s not unusual for one partner to be in the dark about financial basics, and around one-third are not prepared to take over the financial reins in the event of a spouse’s  illness or death. About 1/3 of couples disagree on who is actually named as beneficiary on their insurance and retirement accounts, and whether their assets are titled jointly or individually.  Many couldn’t locate important financial papers or identify family assets and sources of income. In some cases ignorance may be bliss, but in couples, not keeping an eye on the money ball can often result in dangerous and damaging surprises.

The secret to a happy marriage?

The Fidelity survey on couples and money asked what advice couples would give to newlyweds today. The top three responses?

  • Make all financial decisions together
  • Make and stick to a budget
  • Maintain an emergency fund that will cover at least six months of expenses.

 That sounds like a Valentine’s Day resolution we can all live with!



About Mari Adam

Mari Adam, Certified Financial Planner™ has been helping individuals and families chart their financial futures for over twenty-five years. Have a question about your financial situation? Ask Mari!

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