When money and relationships clash: What couples can do to get on the same financial page

Fighting over money is one of the three reasons couples divorce. pick-uppath/Getty Images

Finances is one of the major sources of problems and stresses in a relationship, so much so that it has the power to break up a couple and end marriages.

In fact, the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis says money issues is one of the three leading causes of divorce (22 per cent).

And it can all start when the two people in the relationship have very different philosophies on how to manage their money.

READ MORE: 7 biggest relationship threats that can lead to a breakup

“Couples who are not on the same page when it comes to setting and meeting financial goals can then, subconsciously, find themselves in a fight for their very survival once their fight or flight mechanism is activated,” relationship expert Chantal Heide of Canada’s Dating Coach says. “This elevated fear and stress then bleeds into multiple aspects of their relationship, and they start seeing every misspent dollar as a symbol of their ability to survive, leading to bigger fights around every corner.”

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And if one person has a mindset of a “saver” while the other has a tendency to be a “spender,” then problems both within the couple’s relationship and finances will arise, Heide says.

Click to play video: 'Dealing with financial strain in a relationship'
Dealing with financial strain in a relationship

“Our feelings about money and the management style we bring with us are conditioned during our childhood years,” Heide says. “This can cause some push and pull since each person might find themselves striving to stay within the familiar, even if that familiar pattern isn’t functional, just because with familiarity comes the sense of comfort and predictability our brains crave.”

“Everybody is different in how they view money and how they manage it,” Dilys D’Cruz, vice-president of wealth management at Ontario credit union Meridian, says. “If one is a spender and one is a saver, then that could just cause a lot of grief and frustration in a relationship.”

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So what can clashing couples do to ensure both their finances and relationship are secure in these predicaments?

Heide and D’Cruz offer some tips.

Financial tips

There are four things couples can do when managing their finances, and in turn take the pressure off their relationship.

First, sort out your financial differences.

“It’s really about having a discussion to understand what are your thoughts and beliefs about money,” D’Cruz says. “Sit down and sort out those differences to see where you’re at.”

Second, get involved and share the financial responsibility.

“Sit down and say, ‘Let’s share this – where do we want to go, and how can we get there?’” D’Cruz says. “It’s about coming up with a plan together and figure out what you want to achieve together.”

READ MORE: 9 old-fashioned marriage tips that still work today that every couple should follow

D’Cruz also suggests that every couple have three banking accounts: a personal one for each person for their own spending wants and needs, and a joint account for shared expenses.

Next couples should set goals.

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Find common goals and talk about what your individual goals are. Is it getting out of debt? Is it saving for retirement? Figure out what you want to achieve in the short term and long term as a couple.

Lastly, get a personalized financial plan.

“Sometimes it’s hard to have that discussion [on finances] with your partner,” D’Cruz points out. “That’s why I really encourage couples to see an adviser and having a discussion with a third party who can walk you through the discussion and understand what your goals are.”

Relationship tips

Without compatible long-term goals, couples will fight excessively because of the stress caused by trying to overcome the biggest obstacle of all – their partner’s lack of common interest, Heide says.

So in order to smoothly navigate those financial talks, Heide says it’s important to understand that being in a relationship means turning love into a verb.

“Yes, this sometimes requires sacrifice, but when you choose the right partner, those sacrifices elevate rather than drain you.”

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Recognize when your partner has goals that will be a bonus to your own well-being, she says, and rise up to help them achieve them.

Try writing out your goals individually and then come together to see where they match up. Ideally, couples will find shared common goals they can work towards together.

Also, realize that it’s not fair to ask for anything you’re not willing to do first, Heide says. Follow your own rules first, then use yourself as an example for the behaviour you’re seeking.

“Becoming a financial leader in your relationship can encourage your partner to follow suit because they see you hitting goals and charging forward, instead of angrily demanding behaviour you’re not rising up to,” Heide says.

And be objective about your goals, she adds, then show your partner how serious you are by working towards that goal. If your partner can’t make it there with you, you’ve at least begun the journey yourself and are more likely to attract someone who shares those dreams and has the same level of commitment to them the next time around, Heide says.


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