Financial stress is one of the biggest problems in relationships. And the most common source of debate.
Fights about money are often the most heated and unresolved.
If you don’t learn to handle your financial strain well it can eat away at your relationship, undermining trust and cooperation. You can end up angry and distant from one another if one or both of you continue on, feeling unheard and anxious about the state of your financial resources.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. People can and do learn how to navigate financial stress in relationships.
You can have a healthy relationship regardless of your financial status. You just need to learn how.
Financial Stress is a Solvable Problem
In his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Dr. John Gottman identifies two types of marital conflicts: perpetual problems and solvable problems. In fact, more than two-thirds of problems are perpetual. In other words, couples – even happy couples – keep arguing about the same things over and over.
Most of us would guess that financial stress is a perpetual problem. After all, money is always going to be something that we have to deal with. However, Gottman says that financial stress can actually fall into the other third of problems. In other words, money can be a solvable problem in the relationship.
Recognizing financial discord as solvable goes a long way towards keeping financial stress from ruining your relationship. Instead of feeling defeated, as if this problem will last forever, you can start from a place of hope and optimism. Talk with your partner as a team member in an effort to solve financial stress together.
When Money Isn’t About Money
Often, financial arguments aren’t really about money at all. Instead, they are about power, security, trust, and priorities. If that’s what is going on in your relationship, then you might have a perpetual problem on your hands. If so, handling it requires dealing with the underlying issues.
What to Do when Money is the Issue
There are times, of course, when financial stress can actually be about the money. Let’s face it; money is a challenging part of all of our lives. Financial stress can include:
- Unemployment, underemployment, and job changes
- Unexpected expenses due to illness, injury, or accidents
- Large expenses such as sending children to college
In other words, no matter how well you have resolved the underlying emotional issues, finances can still be a problem. When they are, it helps to tackle them head on together.
You can relieve financial stress by learning to budget. This isn’t a skill that everyone has. However, it can be learned. Gottman goes over the steps in detail in his book, but to summarize, he says:
- Make a list of your current family expenses.
- Highlight all of the items that you each consider essential.
- Find ways to reduce or eliminate non-essential expenses.
- Work together to prioritize essential costs. Respect each other’s beliefs about this even if they differ from your own.
- Come up with a plan to pay for each essential item on a regular basis. This plan should include who is responsible for paying and tracking the bills.
You may find it helpful to make the lists on your own then come together to discuss them. Do this when you are calm, and work together as a team. If you see this as a solvable problem that you can manage together you can avoid anger.
Of course, keeping financial stress from ruining your relationship is easier said than done. Since money is one of the most common sources of relationship strain, therapists have a lot of experience helping people through the challenges. Learn more about healthy communication and conflict resolution here.