There is research that speaks to the effect that money and finances can have on the quality of a relationship, but is it the cause of relationship breakdown? Well, yes and no. From a counselling perspective, we see arguments or disagreements about money as a symptom rather than the cause. The picture is generally far more complex than just finances when it comes to the actual breakdown of a relationship.
On the other hand.…
Yes, there is a whole bunch of research that paints a pretty diverse picture about the role that money and finances play in our relationships. From the whacky, where one research piece shows a proportion of couples who steal from their partners [concealing expenditure or hiding purchases not withstanding], to the numerous studies that indicate that generally couples are less likely to discuss finances prior to making a commitment to each other. This is despite other research that says many couples agree to the need to be open about finances, so go figure…
That’s not to say that money isn’t a source of tension, it sure is, and a range of studies will attest to that. However, so is parenting, intimacy, the in laws and a myriad of other shared experiences that couples negotiate by mere fact of being a couple in an intimate relationship.
Money does matter to an extent but again the research provides a mixed picture. On one hand the amount of money one earns can be of little consequence to the other partner, whereas couples who are relatively wealthy tend to have discordant relationships. I guess it’s the adage that while money can buy comfort, it can’t necessarily buy love.
So, when we couple counsellors hear that money issues are the cause of marriage or relationship breakdowns it should raise more questions than answers. For example, did the couple talk about money prior to or during the early stage of their relationship? If not, why not? A more important question is what was the overall communication like between the couple and what other things did they NOT talk about? What were the values (usually derived from their own families) that each held about money and spending or not spending?
Did the couple ever feel they were working as a team? Did they have shared goals or aspirations, and what were these? How did the finances of the couple get managed and by whom? Was money used as a weapon in an abusive relationship? Was there gambling, substance misuse or mental health concerns?
So, you can see that simplistic statements made by some research that money is the main reason why couples split up can be hiding several other equally important questions that relate to factors than all couple can be faced with.
Matt Garrett – Manager Hunter
Relationships Australia NSW