How Can Couples Deal with Financial Stress?

How Can Couples Deal with Financial Stress? May 5, 2024

When Maria, thirty-eight, and Ethan, forty, sat on the couch in my counseling office, they spoke about the stress that they experience when discussing money-related issues. Since Maria was laid off from her job, six months ago, they’re having more difficulty paying for their mortgage, household expenses, and both essential and discretionary items for themselves and their two daughters, ages eight and ten.

Maria laments, “I’ve been searching for jobs but have not not been able to land one yet. Unemployment benefits are not quite enough and we are falling behind on our bills. It’s hard to explain to our daughters, Marina and Bianca, that we all have to cut back until I get another job. I’ve been working for a non-profit environmental agency and my experience is somewhat limited so it’s not easy to find a good fit that pays well.

One of Maria and Ethan’s challenges is having low-conflict conversations about finances. Ethan is a saver who is vigilant about finances and wants to make sure that they earn more than they spend. He grew up in a single parent family where money was tight. Maria, on the other hand, was raised in a two-parent upper middle-class household, and she is more of a spender who sometimes charges items on her credit cards not knowing when she will be able to pay them off. When she does this, she keeps secrets from Ethan. As a result, she has accumulated over $20,000 in credit card debt which Nathan recently discovered. He was very upset about Maria’s financial infidelity and debt.

It is important to discuss finances and debt with your spouse when you get married. With time and patience, you can identify your fears and concerns about money issues. It’s key that you and your partner pay attention to the red flags of financial infidelity, such as hiding debts or secrets accounts, which contribute to marital problems. Stress related to finances is a leading cause of divorce.

Full Disclosure

Full disclosure is highly recommended so that you and your partner can have a strong partnership.

Couples need to share details about their past and current debts. Keep in mind that you will be discussing emotions as well as numbers. For instance, Nathan said to Maria, “I felt so hurt when I found out about your credit card debt that you were hiding from me.” Sharing details about your past and current debts, as well as spending habits, can build trust between partners.

Most couples find that talking about finances on a day to day basis as expenses come up. On the other hand, it’s a good idea to devote about one to two hour a month to discussing money matters. By being intentional about these money talks, issues don’t get swept under the rug or lead to secrecy.

Make a Commitment to Change

If there is any kind of financial infidelity, it’s important for the partner who is being secretive or dishonest to promise to stop doing the behavior that is problematic. They must offer their partner reassurance that they have made a commitment to change. Financial infidelity can be defined as keeping money-related secrets from your partner or lying about money because you know that they might be upset at you. It’s not the same as forgetting to pay a bill. Examples are hiding credit card debt or skimming money off your checking account by using a debit card to purchase something and getting cash back without accounting for it or informing your partner.

If this is your problem, you may need to do this by showing your partner bank and/or credit card statements. It is vital that you commit yourself to doing whatever is necessary to rebuild trust with your partner and to rid yourself of debt and spending habits that are contributing to any financial problems in your remarriage. Consider counseling sessions as a couple to gain support and a neutral party’s feedback for at least eight to twelve sessions or until you see improvement.

If someone has a gambling addiction, they will need to seek specialized treatment for this problem before couples counseling can be effective. In any case, feelings of anger, betrayal, and grief need to dealt with if a couple is going to regain trust. Keep in mind that it takes time for couples to do this and couples counseling can be highly beneficial in this process.

Couples often underestimate the challenges of marriage and buy into the myth that love will conquer all and avoid talking about finances because it stirs up conflict. Critical junctures in a marriage such as buying a new home, starting a new job, or adding one or more children to the family can spark anxiety about money. If couples have not worked through trust issues in the early phases of their marriage, they may have difficulty being open about finances.

Remember there is no “right” or “wrong” way to deal with money matters and it’s a good idea to focus more on listening and give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Remember that feelings are not “good” or “bad,” they are just real emotions that need to identified, processed, and shared effectively without blaming your partner so you can rebuild trust, love and intimacy. Couples who want to have a successful marriage that endures the test of time, must practice full disclosure about finances so they can reach financial goals and create a positive vision for their future.

Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

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