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Do You Feel Financially Stuck in a Marriage or Relationship?

How to make a financially-informed decision about whether to stay.

Key points

  • Financial imbalance in a partnership can cause resentment.
  • When one partner is financially literate and one is not, there can be a big difference in power and control within the relationship.
  • It's important to do some research on financial implications before making rash decisions about staying or leaving.

All of us have experienced times in our lives when we were financially dependent. In childhood, we are dependent on our caregivers to provide shelter, health care, food, and clothing. As adults, we may become dependent on our partners because of an income discrepancy. Or perhaps we choose to be stay-at-home parents to raise our children and reduce child care expenses with the hopes of creating more work-life balance in the marriage or partnership.

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In my practice, I've seen dependent financial relationships work well with couples if the working partner has deep respect and appreciation for all their stay-at-home partner handles for the household. According to, a stay-at-home partner would receive an annual salary of $126,725 if they were paid for all jobs they perform as primary caregivers. But they aren’t paid a salary.

Financial Imbalance Can Cause Power and Control Issues in Relationships

More often, I have seen financially dependent relationships where the working partner has more power and control over financial planning and other major life decisions. I’ve also seen couples resent each other because of an unfair division of labor. It can take some hard work in couples counseling to move through the hardened anger and rebalance the power in the relationship so the couple can operate as a mutually beneficial and respectful team. There are ways to turn arguments about money with your partner into mindful conversations.

When one partner is financially literate, and one is not, it can influence power and control within the relationship. The ripple effect causes stress in the marriage, often leading to divorce. Fights about money are the second leading cause of divorce. If you find yourself in a rocky marriage because you are financially dependent, consider these five things you can do today to become more financially aware.

Five Ways to Help You Make a Financially-Informed Decision About Separation or Divorce

1. Become financially literate. Financial literacy is being able to understand and apply financial management skills to make informed financial decisions. Nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test, so if you aren’t financially literate, you aren’t alone. Improve your financial literacy by reading financial literacy books, listening to money podcasts, or taking a financial literacy or basic finance class at your local community center or online.

Becoming financially literate will increase your confidence and feelings of empowerment and take the reins of your life and financial future. In my book, The Financial Mindset Fix, I show how to cultivate abundance when it comes to your mindset around money to impact your bottom line.

2. Do your research about the legal and financial ramifications of divorce. When my clients are contemplating leaving a financially dependent relationship, I recommend that they educate themselves about the legal and financial ramifications of separation or divorce. State laws vary in terms of rights for unmarried domestic partners as well as for couples going through a divorce.

Even if you aren’t ready to divorce, consult a divorce attorney to understand your financial reality. I’ve worked with many clients in unhappy marriages who stay because they are financially dependent and think if they get divorced, they will be unable to support themselves. Many attorneys offer a complimentary consultation. Often, a 20-minute phone call can help somebody have a clearer understanding of what maintenance and support may be available to them. This will help you to not make major life decisions based on financial fear.

3. Know your financial reality. In my practice, I have been surprised by how many women do not know very much about their partner’s actual earnings, their assets (such as equity in the home, savings, investments, etc.), and liabilities (mortgage balance, student loans, credit card balances, etc.).

If you are married, your partner’s financial life greatly impacts yours. Begin to gather records such as account statements and bills. Run your own credit report to see what certain loans or credit cards are listed under your name. If you do not feel safe asking for financial transparency and are thinking about divorce, rest assured that a full financial disclosure will be requested of your partner. Forensic accountants are available to investigate if you believe funds are being hidden.

4. Gather documentation to demonstrate your lifestyle and standard of living. Bank and credit card statements that demonstrate how much you typically spend on food, clothes, entertainment, and travel can be used during a divorce settlement to determine the amounts for alimony and child support.

5. Don’t rush to get a job. Be aware that getting a job may actually hurt you financially in a divorce settlement. While many women I have counseled who are leaving financially dependent relationships want to return to work to ensure their financial stability, it may be best to wait until after the settlement, as your income will be subtracted from your maintenance. When you are ready to return to work, seek career-counseling support.

If you are in an unhealthy relationship, you need to get out whether you are financially dependent or not. Take the time to figure out how that decision may impact your financial health. It is important to take the five steps outlined here to preserve your financial health and wellness during a separation or divorce.


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