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Financial Strain and Relationship Health

How money, or lack thereof, can impact a relationship.

Courtesy of Pexels, Karolina Grabowska
Source: Courtesy of Pexels, Karolina Grabowska

Money is a difficult topic of conversation to broach for many couples. It involves talking about how much each person earns, the desire to either combine resources or keep them separate, as well as spending habits. Despite the likelihood that it may lead to some uncomfortable moments, it is an important discussion to have, as finances affect the overall satisfaction derived from a relationship, and have the potential to affect us at all stages of our union.

Finances Before Marriage

Even before a couple gets married, finances are likely to come into play. Research has shown an inverse relationship between the money spent on a wedding ceremony and ring and the duration of the marriage; meaning the more money that is spent, the shorter the marriage (Francis-Tan & Mialon, 2014). Specifically, the authors found that men who spend $2,000-$4,000 on engagement rings were 1.3 times more likely to get divorced than those who spent between $500 and $2,000. Looking at the statistics for women revealed that when the wedding cost $20,000 or more, they were 3.5 times more likely to get divorced than when the wedding cost $5,000-$10,000.

The reasons for these relationships remain unclear. The likelihood of divorce may increase as a result of wedding-related debt stress or because of the likelihood that those who spend less happen to be a better match for one another (Francis-Tan & Mialon, 2014). While a causal relationship cannot be drawn, the findings are in direct opposition to the information that the wedding industry pushes on us — that spending more will lead to a happily ever after.

Finances at the Early Stages

A study examining the financial management and perceptions of finances of 310 participants from student family housing at Utah State University found that financial management behaviors and the perception of how the finances were managed were related to marital satisfaction (Kerkmann, Lee, Lown, & Allgood, 2000). Kermann et al. (2000) note, “It may well be that in this initial family life cycle stage, being able to control a small aspect of married life like managing finances and feeling effective at it may be the explanation for the relationship between perceived or actual financial management and how satisfied the chief family money managers feel with their marriage” (p.60).

Furthermore, financial problems and the perception of financial problems were negatively related to marital satisfaction. A suggested explanation for this is that financial pressure increases hostility in the relationship. Similarly, a study conducted by Archuleta, Britt, Tonn, and Grable (2011), which examined the survey responses of 310 married individuals from a Midwest U.S. state, demonstrated that financial satisfaction was positively related to marital satisfaction, and financial stressors were negatively related to marital satisfaction.

Finances Down the Road

Research has shown that among married homeowners, there was a positive relationship between a paid-off mortgage and marital satisfaction, which was mediated by feelings of economic pressure (Nelson, Delgadillo, & Dew, 2013). Therefore, financial stability is a major component of wedded bliss.

Finally, in a study conducted by Vinokur, Price, and Caplan (1996), which longitudinally examined 815 job seekers and their partners/spouses, the researchers found that financial strain increased depressive symptoms in both partners. These depressive symptoms led to decreased support from the job seeker’s partner (such a providing help and expressing concern) and increased undermining behaviors by the partner (such as criticism). The decreased support and increased undermining, in turn, led to increased depressive symptoms and less satisfaction in the relationship. Therefore, financial instability can lead to a vicious cycle that can take a toll on the relationship.


As shown by the aforementioned studies, financial stability plays an important part in the satisfaction derived from a relationship. While we can’t always control external factors, it is important to discuss how the finances will be handled, potential backup plans in the event of job loss or other extenuating circumstances, and how to handle the stress should the finances become depleted. Knowing that you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to money is an important first step.


Archuleta, K. L., Britt, S. L., Tonn, T. J., & Grable, J. E. (2011). Financial satisfaction and financial stressors in marital satisfaction. Psychological Reports, 108(2), 563-576.

Francis‐Tan, A., & Mialon, H. M. (2015). “A diamond is forever” and other fairy tales: The relationship between wedding expenses and marriage duration. Economic Inquiry, 53(4), 1919-1930.

Nelson, S., Delgadillo, L., & Dew, J. P. (2013). Housing cost burden and marital satisfaction. Marriage & Family Review, 49(6), 546-561.

Vinokur, A. D., Price, R. H., & Caplan, R. D. (1996). Hard times and hurtful partners: How financial strain affects depression and relationship satisfaction of unemployed persons and their spouses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(1), 166-179.

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