Talking about money in a relationship is tricky—in fact, money comes up as the number one source of relationship stress in survey after survey. People have a tendency to not talk about it until it’s too late and, when they do talk about it, it’s easy to get defensive or irrational. So if you and your partner fight about money, don't worry—you are definitely not alone.
In fact, Brides spoke to some real women to get an idea of the kind of arguments they were having with their partner over money. There are different ways financial stresses can manifest—from when there’s an inherent inequality in how much you make to when there’s just not enough money to go around, period. If you want to get a sense of the kind of fights couples are having about money, here are real women sharing their biggest money fights, because when it comes to finances, we're not always our best selves.
When There’s A Lack Of Communication
“I literally just had my biggest money fight—and it led to us breaking up. When I was on holiday in Thailand he paid for a lot of things up front (not everything, but a lot of things), with the agreement that I’d pay him back when we got home, because I was broke that month. Even though I kept saying thank you and reminding him I’d pay him back (and I did pay for some things), I didn’t realize that he was getting more angry and resentful every time he bought anything. About a week after we got home we had a huge row—which we couldn’t get over. I got super defensive (not great, I know), but I also felt like he shouldn’t have kept saying ‘It’s fine, it’s fine, don’t worry!’ when it was clearly not fine. Basically, it broke us up.”
— Simone, 29
This was a common theme. A lot of the problems around money come from a reticence to talk about it and, when we do talk about it, not being open about how we really feel or what we’re thinking. It's easy to see how resentment and confusion can grow. Talking about money often and incorporating into your day-to-day conversation—rather just big, difficult talks—will help make you more comfortable being honest about your finances.
When A Temporary Arrangement Becomes Less Temporary
“My fiancé (now my husband) was starting his own business, something I was very proud of. When it took longer than expected and funding ran out, I stepped up to cover all of the living costs. I paid the mortgage, bought groceries, and any little treats or splurges were on me (though there weren’t many). It was a very stressful time. I also occasionally gave him spending money. This was meant to last for six months, tops, but went on for nearly two years. This led to a lot of little money fights and then one huge one, after the business failed and he wanted to keep trying. I freaked, because I just couldn't do it anymore. Now, he has had a great job and things are better, but I’m still slightly skeptical of his financial common sense, so I keep a close eye on things.”
— Susannah, 32
If you start helping your partner out and then it just keeps going, it can create an awkward situation. You don’t know when to pull the plug, you want to be supportive, but, slowly, the bitterness can build. If you get into a temporary arrangement—when your partner is unemployed or struggling—make sure to set some clear boundaries and make an effort to check in regularly to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.
When There’s An Inherent Inequality
“My boyfriend and I live in a flat that his father owns—we split the bills. My boyfriend earns a lot more than me and also has super expensive tastes, so normally if he wants to go somewhere I would never pick then he foots the bill. But occasionally, he’ll get annoyed and we’ll have a blowout—it’s never one specific thing, it seems to be some combination of the fact I don’t pay rent and pay less generally. But he doesn’t pay rent either—and makes way more and wants to go to places I would never choose. I’m not on a career path to make much money and he is, so I only see this problem getting worse, but I don’t know what to do about it.
— Eliza, 30
Sometimes, one of you just makes more than the other. The best thing you do in this case is to come up with a system and stick with it. Separate accounts and a joint account can help, as you can put a set amount in the joint account for everything you do together. The amount may be a percentage of your income or any other distribution that works for you, but decide in advance and stick to it so it doesn't feel like constant negotiation.
When There’s Just Not Enough
“Both my partner and I are budgeters—and we’re wicked good at it. Spreadsheets, envelopes—we’ve pretty much tried every money plan that we possibly could. But we’re still broke and sh*t gets hard. We don’t try to get angry with each other, because we both know the other ones tries, but when there’s not enough money, we tend to fight. Not about money, actually—it’s like we’re so on edge when there’s a new bill or we’re not sleeping enough because we’re worried about rent due or how we’re going to get home for Christmas, so then we’re just touchy about everything. I feel guilty, because I know it’s irrational and I know he does too. But it can just feel like this weight, like we get out of one month and finally breath for a second but then it’s back again.”
— Rose, 35
With all of the talk about how to manage your money and how to talk about money, it’s important not to lose sight of one key point: sometimes there just isn’t enough. It’s easy to come up with these hypothetical dynamics and goals when you have endless income, but the truth is normally far from that. If you don’t have enough money no matter what you do, let yourself off the hook a little. Of course, you should keep budgeting, keep being compassionate with each other, and keep trying—but also, know that you’re going to get stressed from time to time.
Not having enough money is really, really hard—and so many of us experience it.
Money fights can totally overpower a relationship—and they arise in so many different forms. The best thing you can do is be open about your finances, talk about your different spending habits, and keep things transparent. That doesn't mean telling the other person about every dollar you spend, it just means be transparent in an agreement and strategy you make together. When in doubt, talk it out.