Money is a huge issue for couples, so big it may be more important than communication. Fights about money seem to be more intense than most other topics and about one third of couples coming for counselling are having financial distress.
So, if money is such a problem for couples, should couples just try to make more money or is there something else to focus on? A researcher from Kansas recently investigated what factors mattered the most to couples.
It is important for couples to have similar views on money and shared goals. It has been shown that couples need to respect each other’s goals and dreams. They don’t necessarily need to agree with their partner’s dream, but they need support it. It is important to get on the “same team.” This can be boiled down to respect. It is important to respect each other even though each person is different. Respect has actually been found to be associated with martial satisfaction in general, not just in the area of money.
It seems it is also important for couples to have similar views on autonomy or independence with money. Sometimes couples give each other a lot of autonomy, sometimes there are limits on what can be spent without consulting or strict budgets. People in a relationship need to feel on the same page when it comes to how free they are to make their own financial decisions. This doesn’t mean that couples need to give each other more autonomy, just that they need to agree on the limits.
Satisfying Financial Roles
This research also asked about all the different financial responsibilities that the each member of the couple does (e.g., bookkeeping, taxes, bill payment, etc.). After they looked at all of these tasks they found that the actual tasks weren’t that important. What was important was the level of satisfaction each person had with the tasks they were responsible for. So it doesn’t matter who keeps the books as long as that person feels good about doing it.
Income, Kids, and Experience
It seemed that level of income was an important factor in financial satisfaction. Making more money helped. Having enough money to meet obligations was important. It also helped if the kids were out of the house. When the kids leave, there is more disposable income and ability to save.
It was also better for couples who had been together longer. Having experience was a good thing. Sometimes it just takes a while to learn about how you work as a couple.
It is important for couples to have their views on finances figured out. In fact, it can be more important than communication. Feeling good about your money isn’t just about having enough, it is important to respect each others goals, values, and figure out financial roles. Getting all of this straight can be tricky, our feelings about money and how it should be spent can run deep. Being patient, understanding, and respecting each other’s goals is key. It is good to know that these issues get better over time – experience makes a difference.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Archuleta, K. L. (2013). Couples, money, and expectations: Negotiating financial management roles to increase relationship satsifaction. Marriage & Family Review, 49, 391-411.