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When Partners Argue About Money

What do couples actually fight about when it comes to money?

Source: Afif Ramdhasuma / Unsplash
Source: Afif Ramdhasuma / Unsplash

Sex and money. These are the most deleterious topics of disagreements in relationships. While most couples argue with each other about topics such as who does chores, how much to involve the in-laws in their life, and how much time is spent together, those couples who tend to fight more about sex and those who often fight about money are the most likely to divorce and to feel dissatisfied in their relationship.

Many reasons have little to do with the relationship itself that might lead couples to fight. For instance, financial stress or stressors such as being laid off or having trouble making ends meet are more likely to lead to fighting about money. When partners have different views on money, perhaps seeing money as a way to ensure future security versus a way to experience life to the fullest are also more likely to fight about finances than couples in which partners share the same view on money.

What Do Fights About Money Actually Involve?

In a bid to discover what couples fight about when they’re disagreeing and arguing over money, my students Courtney Royle, Zoe Meloff, and I first took a look at social media. On the social media platform Reddit (one of the top 20 social media platforms worldwide with over 70 million daily active users), people anonymously tell their stories and engage with other users. Specifically, on a page dedicated to relationship advice (r/relationships), people describe their relationship troubles. We downloaded a year’s worth of user submissions (i.e., "posts") from this page that referenced money or finances and read each one to ensure that they described financial conflicts in romantic relationships. Over 1,000 of the posts described a financial conflict with a relationship partner. As fights about money do not happen every day and people are often less enthusiastic to talk about them to researchers in any detail, this large set of anonymous conflict descriptions was a goldmine for us as researchers.

Using an analysis strategy called thematic analysis. We coded these conflict descriptions for the unique topics that occurred across all posts. Across the entire body of text extracted from social media descriptions of financial conflict, we identified 41 unique conflict topics. These topics could be sorted into three large themes.

The most frequently mentioned theme was concerns about irresponsible spending by the partner. This theme included fights about the partner’s personal purchases (“you spent how much on that”), lack of saving or planning for the future, fights about different financial values, and lack of communication about finances or hidden spending by one of the partners.

A second theme was concerns about the fairness of finances in the relationship. This theme included fights about each partner’s relative contributions (for example, do bills get split proportional to each partner’s income or 50-50?), who pays when going on dates, too many or not enough gifts, and fights about terms of financial arrangements including money paid or loaned to family members, or whether the couple would combine finances.

A third theme was about much more mundane, everyday spending decisions, involving car purchases, how to deal with unexpected windfall money, fights about how to budget and make ends meet, or fights about one of the partner’s job or income situations.

Does What Couples Fight About Matter for Relationship Satisfaction?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In a second study, we asked 481 married people to recall a recent disagreement about money, to see whether the topics of these descriptions would reflect the topics we saw in the social media posts.

The fights these participants recalled were of course much less severe than the fights described in the social media posts. However, they also fit into the three themes identified previously: Concerns about the partner’s spending being irresponsible, concerns about fairness in the relationship, and conflicts about mundane spending decisions for the home, children, travel or other joint expenses.

In this study, we could also examine how the topic of the remembered disagreement about money was linked to participants’ overall satisfaction with the relationship, which was assessed on a scale asking questions such as “How much do you love your partner?” Those participants who remembered disagreements that were coded as containing concerns about irresponsibility or concerns of fairness reported worse relationship satisfaction overall than participants who remembered fights that did not touch on these concerns. However, those participants who remembered disagreements that were about more everyday mundane financial decisions were overall more satisfied with their relationship.

“Fighting” about small everyday financial decisions with the partner can be good for the relationship. Discussing financial issues that are small and solvable might prevent these issues from turning into larger, more persistent problems. In contrast, when fights about money become linked with fundamental concerns about the partner’s fairness and responsibility as a partner, overall relationship quality suffers.

Discussions of money remain one of the last taboos in Western culture. In romantic relationships, however, discussing financial decisions and making sure communication about money is positive may protect the relationship from outside stressors such as economic hardship. Talking to your partner about the small stuff might mean you’ll never have to fight about big concerns.


Peetz, J., Meloff, Z., & Royle, C. (2023). When couples fight about money, what do they fight about?. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 40(11), 3723.

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