5 Money Issues That Can Hurt a Relationship

Quick Answer

For many couples, money issues—like financial infidelity and differences in spending habits—can be a major cause of stress. Getting ahead of these issues could help reduce tension so you can reach financial goals as a team.

Stressed couple experiencing relationship difficulty while working on their finances at home during golden hour.

If money is a source of stress in your relationship, you're not alone. A massive 73% of married or cohabitating Americans say they experience relationship tension due to money decisions, according to the American Institute of CPAs. And nearly half of those couples say tension negatively impacts intimacy with their partner.

While you might never see exactly eye to eye about money with your loved one, you may be able to get more in sync. From lack of communication to financial infidelity, here are five money issues that can derail a relationship—and actions you can take to get back on track.

Differences in Financial Goals

Joint financial goals are plans you and your partner work on together. Without collaborative goals, you might not have similar visions of your financial future. For example, if your partner is saving for an investment property while you're saving to take a sabbatical year in Europe, your priorities probably aren't aligning. While there may be space to achieve both goals, figuring out what timeline makes sense and agreeing on a plan could help you work better as a team.

What can you do about it? Plan a date to talk money and financial goals. Make it at a favorite restaurant or during a fun activity like a hike or day at the beach to lighten the mood. Discuss what you both want to achieve collectively within the next three, five or 10 years, and map out how you can get there. Answer questions like: How does your budget need to change to reach your goals? What are you both willing to sacrifice to make it all happen (and what won't you give up)?

Lack of Communication About Big Money Decisions

When one partner makes major financial decisions without input, it can make the other partner feel out of the loop. Ultimately, couples can manage money in different ways: You might have a joint bank account, separate bank accounts or a combination of both, for example.

However, even if you split bills and have separate accounts, one person making solo decisions—like buying a car or running up the balance on a credit card—can impact both of you. That's because it could take away from their ability to contribute to joint current and future responsibilities, like buying furniture for a new place or paying for a child's day care or education.

What can you do about it? Consider setting up a joint budget and financial guardrails. A budget is a plan for who pays what throughout the month, as well as how much is allocated for expenses, savings and debt payoff. Financial guardrails could be limits you set on spending without talking to each other first. For example, you could agree to discuss any purchase above $300. This way, you both have input and can discuss whether you can afford it now or whether it's a purchase to put off and save for.

Financial Infidelity

Financial infidelity is the act of concealing or being untruthful about money habits, such as hiding savings accounts or credit cards from your partner. Like emotional or physical infidelity, financial infidelity betrays trust and can cause money trouble if it results in excessive debt.

A poll from the National Endowment for Financial Education found that financial infidelity is surprisingly common: 39% of respondents say they've hidden cash, statements, bills or purchases from a partner. And 21% say they've lied about finances, debt or money earned.

As for why, 38% believe some aspects of money should be private, 34% fear disapproval from a spouse and 33% say they're embarrassed or fearful of finances and don't want to share.

What can you do about it? Be transparent about your financial moves and try to create a supportive environment where you and your partner feel comfortable sharing financial information, both the good and the bad. If you need support navigating financial infidelity, couples counseling or financial therapy could help you uncover reasons behind the behavior so that you can chart a way forward. However, if you're experiencing financial abuse or other abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has confidential support and free resources you can turn to for help.

Drastically Different Spending Habits

Being with a partner who has different spending habits can lead to heated disagreements. Maybe your partner is comfortable spending most of their paycheck each month as long as bills are paid and there's a bit of money in savings. Meanwhile, you prefer to save a large portion of your income and wish your partner would contribute more to savings. You may not be able to change each other's mindsets about spending, but there could be a way to find a happy medium.

What can you do about it? Consider working with a financial coach or advisor to get a third-party opinion on your budget and spending behaviors. You could also consider dividing up financial responsibilities in a way that speaks to both of your strengths. For example, the spender of the relationship could be responsible for keeping the house stocked with everyday items according to budget while the saver focuses on stocking the savings account.

Income Differences

In most relationships, one partner will earn more than another, which can cause tension when splitting up bills. If a high-earning partner is accustomed to a higher standard of living, the partner who earns less could have trouble keeping up with the lifestyle, causing them financial stress. The higher-earning partner could also feel stress if they end up bearing most or all of the financial burden.

What can you do about it? Have a talk about how to split up bills in a way you both feel is fair considering your income. For example, say Partner 1 earns $60,000, and Partner 2 earns $125,000. You could split bills 40-60 instead of down the middle, which is a bit more proportionate to how much each partner is earning. Of course, the right split will depend on your situation and what other financial responsibilities you each have.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes relationships need tune-ups, and revisiting your goals could be the checkup you need to get your finances back in order. The good news is you don't have to do it all alone.

A financial coach could help you both build better financial habits. And hiring a financial planner could help you solidify your long-term plan to include a strategy to save for a house, retirement or your child's future education. When you're on the same page, your money may go further, helping you achieve financial goals with fewer disagreements.

And, no matter what you and your partner decide to save for, keeping your credit in line is essential for any future borrowing you may need to do. Keep an eye on your credit report and your credit score, making adjustments to your habits as necessary to put you in a better financial position.