Financial stress is a chief concern for many couples. Though financial security is one of the top reasons people give for getting married in the first place, financial stress ranks among the leading causes of divorce in the U.S., according to Forbes. To say that money can put a strain on a relationship would be putting it mildly.

For advice on how to handle financial stress before it blows up your relationship, Credello turned to six experts in relationship-, finance-, and health-related fields to understand what couples can do to get on — and stay on — the same page regarding money matters.

What is financial stress?

Financial stress refers to the emotional and psychological strife couples can experience due to their financial circumstances or concerns. It typically arises when there is a misalignment between financial obligations and resources, leading to feelings of anxiety, worry, and insecurity, but financial stress can come in many forms.

“One financial pain point that could present itself in a relationship can be found in secrecy. Often unintentionally, partners or spouses may hide their actual financial standing. This includes how much they earn, what debt they may have, or if an investment portfolio exists,” Marsha Barnes, a Certified Financial Social Worker and founder of The Finance Bar, tells Credello. “As a result, significant others can feel a disconnect in the relationship between what feels romantic and what is reality.”

Thirty-five percent of respondents in Credello’s 2022 Love and Money survey revealed that they’ve hidden debt or large purchases from their romantic partner. This disconnect may also show up due to a lack of planning and strategies, miscommunication, differences in spending habits, and differences in values.

“Money is such a complex topic and manifests differently based on our experiences and memories,” Jamie A. Bosse, a Certified Financial Planner, Principal, Wealth Manager at Aspyre Wealth Partners tells Credello. “To some, money may symbolize freedom, power, and joy. Others may associate money with shame, greed, and sin. Many of our biases around money are set before we are even out of grade school and are further shaped by our life experiences along the way.”

Rachel DeAlto, Chief Connections Officer at Match Group, provided insights for Credello based on Match’s 13th annual Singles in America survey consisting of findings based on more than 5,000 US-based singles. “This year’s Singles in America data found that 73% of singles say a potential partner’s financial stability is important,” DeAlto says. “These pain points become a challenge when couples don’t communicate openly about their finances and aren’t willing to compromise or work as a team around budgeting, saving, and handling debt.”

Speaking of handling debt, couples looking to pay off existing debt together can consider using Credello’s debt payoff calculator to get started. Together, you can see how applying the snowball or avalanche method to pay off that debt could help you save on interest and become a debt-free couple faster.

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Experts say psychological, emotional, and health consequences of financial stress in relationships abound

Among the top concerns that can arise for couples dealing with financial stress, running out of money to pay bills is a central issue. If one or both partners is engaging in misuse of money, overspending, gambling, impulse spending, emotional spending, or living beyond your means, it can cause a cascade of consequences.

“These kinds of issues leave the couple in more of a survival mode, where it’s hard to think about anything but just meeting basic needs. This means that the couple won’t have the capacity to do enjoyable and fun things together and otherwise enjoy each other’s company,” Hannah Yang, Psy.D., Founder and CEO of Balanced Awakening, a niche psychotherapy practice for women, tells Credello.

Impacts of money on a relationship can even eventually trickle into the bedroom. “Financial stress in a relationship can lead to conflict, resentment, and a breakdown of intimacy,” DeAlto explains.

Further down the rabbit hole of being misaligned on money matters within a relationship, couples can run into serious financial issues that can take years to overcome. “Overspending can lead to increased debt, and you can feel like you are in a big hole,” says Regina McCann Hess, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst Certified Divorce Financial Analyst at Forge Wealth Management and author of Super Woman Wealth: How To Become Your Own Financial Hero. “This creates anxiety and stress in the relationship. In addition, it can set us behind in your savings goals which can create more tension for the couple.”

According to Dr. Sarah Bonza, MD, MPh, physical health is another consideration of financial stress. As a family physician treating chronic conditions like heart disease, she shared with Credello how health complications can be rooted in stress.

“When dealing with too much stress, particularly ones that are financial in nature, one may experience somatization of stress – meaning it can “convert” into physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and even high blood pressure due to high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone,” she explains. “Now, in my practice, I’ve seen couples present with hypertension due to stress, and their physical health compounded the conflict they were dealing with as it got into the way of their communication. This happens quite a lot. Frustration is common among couples who are under extreme stress and it can either lead to explosive arguments or aversion of the discussion of money matters, making clear-headed decisionmaking difficult.”

Bonza suggests that couples take time and space alone prior facing their money conflicts head-on. “Financial stress can break the strongest of bonds, and so both parties need to be level headed should they wish to work on this together, not just for the sake of their relationship or family, but also for their health.”

Real advice for coping with financial stress as a couple

Addressing financial stress often involves a combination of practical solutions, such as budgeting and debt management, and emotional support, such as counseling or seeking assistance from financial professionals in order to avoid the potential consequences.

Here are some steps our experts suggest couples can take to handle financial stress:

Talk through your money history. “Everyone has a past with money, so when people couple up in a marriage or partnership, there is often a disconnect on their views, and they must work together to find common ground or else get ready for the disagreements,” Bosse says. She recommends asking questions and withholding judgement of your partner’s answers. “Understanding your partner’s history will help the two of you move forward together.”

Embrace one another’s approach to money. Not everyone has the same approach to finances, and that’s OK, according to the experts. However, Yang explains that it’s normal for couples to have opposite opinions, and recognizing one another’s strengths can be helpful. “There is value and benefits when you both bring something different to the table,” she says. “I think it’s important for couples to hear that, in part because it can create a sense of appreciation for the other person.”

Stay open and honest. “A best practice to navigating financial stress is to openly discuss your finances. Things feel worse when they are hidden, and fear can grow from not knowing what is really happening behind the scenes,” Hess says.

Set and regular time to discuss finances and keep at it. Another suggestion that Hess and nearly every other expert we spoke to agreed with is to set standing money dates with your partner. “It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive review – just a discussion of upcoming expenses, what your family has coming up, and any short term goals you are working on,” Bosse suggests. “If you are saving up for something specific, like a vacation or a remodel, check in on savings balances and celebrate your progress.”

Build a budget together. During your money date, take time to create a budget for you both. This can help ensure your priorities are aligned and keep you both on the same page. “If you can cocreate what you’d like your finances to look like, and both people feel like they’ve had a say, it can be pretty powerful,” says Yang.

Ask for help when you need it. Yang says, “If in doubt, get help!” And once again, every expert we spoke to had similar advice. “There are so many types of professionals out there who can help you navigate this, either directly by helping you in your relationship or by using their expertise to advise you specifically about finances and financial planning,” says Yang.

Strengthening your relationship despite financial stress is key

Avoiding conversations about finances leads nowhere good. Between resentment over spending preferences, misalignment of values, and the stress it all creates, it’s imperative to tackle the subject of money together. “Financial stress can be a big factor in the demise of a relationship,” Hess explains. “Many couples fight about money, and it can become such a strain that the couple may get to the point where they end the relationship over money issues.”

Barnes’ best advice for couples battling financial stress who want to avoid heartache over the matter? Don’t avoid the topic. “While it may not appear sexy to open up about finances, financial trust opens dialogue behind priorities, values, and what’s most important for each of you.”

It’s also crucial to note that you’re not alone if you’re stressing over money and it’s causing problems in your relationship. “I believe that it is important to understand that it is normal to have occasional disagreements regarding money. We all come to the table with a different money mindset, and this can be rooted in your childhood or even a recent experience with finances,” Hess says.

“Plus, most of us have never had any financial education. Sadly, even basic ‘financial adulting’ is not taught in most schools: grade school, high school, or college. Unless you were a finance major in college, you may not have had any exposure to this type of education. No wonder so many people are stressed about money and argue about it.”

Bottom line

Above all else, when dealing with matters of love and money, experts agree that communication is key. “Always come to these conversations with openness, empathy, and curiosity – not fear or blame,” Bosse says. “Remember that you are on the same team and are working together for the greater good.”