Top 6 Marriage-Killing Money Issues

Lack of communication is the source of many marital issues. This space is where the hard work of marriage often lives. Like common health problems, financial anxieties—if not addressed—can become far bigger problems with much more difficult solutions.

How to prevent them from damaging your relationship

By James McWhinney Updated Jun 9, 2021

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Arguments about money hamper many marriages. When you consider that about a third of adults with partners report that money is a big source of conflict in their relationships, it’s no wonder that financial problems are a leading cause of divorce.12 What you may not know is that the challenges can actually start even before you say “I do.”

To help pave the road to better marital finances and relationships, here’s an accounting of the most common financial issues that challenge married couples.

Key Takeaways

  • If you’re committed to a relationship, you and your partner owe each other a calm, honest conversation about each other’s finances, habits, goals, and anxieties.
  • Money problems involve discussions in which ego, anxieties about control, and notions of marital roles will have to be checked. When working together, couples can achieve more than singles can.
  • If debt is an issue, couples can employ various tools and strategies to start paying off debt and get on better financial footing.
  • Having kids changes everything; Ideally, couples should communicate their expectations and ideas about how to raise and pay for them well before they’re born.
  • Couples who have trouble talking about money can seek out the help of a financial advisor or planner for unbiased advice.

1. What’s Mine, Yours, Ours

Sometimes, when each spouse works and they can’t agree on financial issues or find the time to talk about them, they decide to split the bills down the middle or allocate them in some other fair and equitable manner. When the bills have been covered, each spouse can spend what they have left as they see fit. It sounds like a reasonable plan, but the process often builds resentment over the individual purchases made. It also divides spending power, eliminating much of the financial value of marriage, as well as the ability to plan for long-term goals such as buying a home or securing retirement. And it can lead to relationship-ruining behavior like financial infidelity, wherein one spouse hides money from the other.

Bill splitting also pushes down the road any planning and consensus-building about how financial burdens will be handled if one spouse loses a job; decides to cut back on hours or take a pay cut to try out a new career; leaves the workforce to raise children, go back to school, or care for a parent; or if there’s any other situation in which one partner may have to financially support the other. Couples owe it to themselves to have a conversation about such contingencies well before any of them happens.

2. Debt

From school loans to car loans to credit cards to gambling habits, most people come to the altar with financial baggage. If one partner has more debt than the other—or if one partner is debt-free—the sparks can start to fly when discussions about income, spending, and debt servicing come up.

People in such situations may take some solace in knowing that debts brought into a marriage stay with the person who incurred them and are not extended to a spouse. It won’t hurt your credit rating, which is linked to Social Security numbers and tracked individually. That said, in most states (those that operate under what is called common law), debts incurred after marriage jointly are owed by both spouses.

Post-marriage, debts incurred individually are still owed just by that individual, with the exception of child care, housing, and food, which are all joint debt no matter what.

Note that there are nine states in which all property (and debts) are shared after marriage regardless of individual or joint account status. They are Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. In these community-property states, you are not liable for most of your spouse’s debt that was incurred before marriage, but any debt incurred after the wedding is automatically shared—even when applied for individually.3

3. Personality

Personality can play a big role in discussions and habits about money. Even if both partners are debt-free, the age-old conflict between spenders and savers can play out in multiple ways. It is important to know what your money personality is—as well as that of your partner—and to discuss these differences openly.

Briefly, some people are natural savers who may be viewed as cheapskates and risk-averse, some are big spenders and like to make a statement, and others take pleasure in shopping and buying. Others rack up debt—often mindlessly—while some are natural investors who delay satisfaction for future self-sufficiency. Many of us may display more than one of these characteristics at a given time, but will usually revert to one main type. Whichever profile you and your spouse most closely fit, it’s best to recognize bad habits, address them, and moderate them.


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