4 Ways to Resolve Financial Conflicts With Your Partner

ByEric Brown

Updated: September 17, 2021

ByEric Brown

Updated: September 17, 2021

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Often, a couple’s relationship with money reflects their relationship with one other. Say there’s a listing for a house in the cul-de-sac down the street. Your partner, however, brings in more income than you. Should you split the down payment and mortgage costs? Should the higher-earning partner pay more? Knowing how to speak with someone and deal with money conflicts makes it more likely you will have a healthy partnership with clear boundaries and expectations.

MoneyGeek spoke with Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and Hugh Massie, a behavioral finance expert, to address and untangle money-oriented squabbles. Below are four ways to resolve financial conflicts with a loved one.

An illustration of a young woman and young man communicating openly about their finances.

1. Discuss Money Openly With Your Partner

Money itself does not usually drive a wedge between two people. Instead, a root cause of relationship strife tends to be poor communication about financial issues.

A communication blockage will often manifest in a relationship breakdown, such a divorce. But learning to discuss money openly can help you develop a deeper sense of understanding, acceptance and respect for your partner.

"Money often reflects the dynamics in the relationship and can be used to express unconscious feelings (e.g., love, control, anger, etc)," says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, Wealth Psychology Expert, Adjunct Professor, Author and Host of the Breaking Money Silence® podcast. "For example, if partners share financial decisions, work through money conflicts, and share some of the same goals, they are more likely to have a partnership/marriage where they operate like a team, respect differences and share values. If there is secrecy around money, then often the couple is conflict avoidant or secretive in other areas too."

To start, establish your financial goals and approach your partner with an open mind. Instead of convincing a significant other to agree with you, respect that each of your perspectives may be different, and you may have something to learn.

"Both partners need to get on top of their own identity and then what their goals are," says Hugh Massie, Behavioral Finance Insights Pioneer and Award-winning Author. "Once they know that individually and figure out how to build an inter-dependent life and not a co-dependent life, they can make healthier financial decisions and not allow money to get in the way."

Money counseling for couples can also help. Often, having a third party to help you navigate difficult situations is beneficial for resolving financial issues in a marriage.

An illustration of a young woman reviewing her financial statements.

2. Evaluate Your Financial Values and Boundaries

Rules and expectations in a relationship can differ depending on your socioeconomic background. All couples, but especially partners who grew up differently, should share the ways their financial history and upbringing have shaped their current outlook.

"I would encourage couples to take time to determine individually their top three values and how they use money to express these values," says Burns Kingsbury.

Burns Kingsbury suggests one way to do this is to look at a recent credit card or debit card statement and see how you are spending your money. Is there a specific item that you buy repeatedly? What is your biggest expense?

Knowing your partner’s financial values and boundaries can give you a heightened understanding of their perspective.

"Problems always come when one of the partners [is] disempowered through lack of information or being shut out completely," says Massie. "The big thing is having an understanding of each other and where they have come from. They must make each other feel valued and not define each other and their relationship by money. The danger is that entitlement creeps in, and that can manifest in many ways."

Remember, whether you and your partner have some shared values or differing values, both are great. The most important note to consider is each person feels valued, and money is not the focal point of your relationship.

An illustration of a young couple discussing ways on how they will split paying their bills.

3. Address Power Imbalances

Couples tend to see power imbalances when it comes to money. Burns Kingsbury points out a couple of examples, as one partner makes more money and has more assets than another. Or, one individual will make more decisions related to shared finances and investments.

The key is to address whether power is lean towards one partner over the other — and how that affects your relationship.

Massie mentions couples should engage in a healthy discussion and establish their shared purpose and set of values. Partners can also make imbalances seem fairer by relinquishing any feelings of entitlement toward money and making a budget.

Splitting costs proportionally to what is earned is a logical starting point. For example, if one partner makes $75,000 a year and the other makes $35,000, both can allot 30% of their salaries to household upkeep and family affairs.

"This decision is up to the couple. Some couples will put a [percentage] of their salaries into a shared account and use that money to pay for household item[s] (e.g., 30% of the higher salary and 30% of the lower salary to reflect equity, even though the couple made different incomes)," says Burns Kingsbury.

Other couples may decide they want to have separate accounts or pay certain bills that reflect their individual interests, such as one partner paying for the cable bill if the other rarely watches television.

But remember, not all imbalances are monetary.

For younger couples, one partner may want to join the workforce while another stays home to look after children. A financial arrangement should be made with a larger vision toward assets, current and future earning capacity, family planning and other life goals.

Massie adds, building an interdependent relationship, rather than a codependent relationship, can help partners maintain their sense of self without sacrificing their ties to one another.

An illustration of a young couple walking over a money bridge as they work through their financial challenges together.

4. Work Through Income Shortfalls

When it comes to handling income shortfalls or debt, be transparent. Ask your partner how much debt they entered the partnership with and what type of debt they have. Then, make a joint plan for how it will be paid off.

"It is up to the partners to decide if they share all their money including all their debt or if they will pay off their own debts themselves. Both can work," says Burns Kingsbury.

Burns Kingsbury also advises revisiting these agreements annually, so arrangements can be adjusted if it is no longer feasible for one partner to pay another’s debts.

Blaming a partner for having too much debt, spending too much, not having enough income or experiencing job loss can lead to situations of heightened resentment. Instead, both partners should take equal responsibility for the debt if they share equally in the benefits, which may happen if a couple buys a home together or takes out a business loan.

"Life will take turns, and these situations happen. So, [couples] have to support each other through the crisis. But, at the same [time], the partner causing the problem has to step up," says Massie. "If the couple [is] walking the journey together, then there is some chance of working out a solution."

Keep in mind, one partner should not be crippled because of the actions of another. If you feel you are responsible for more than your share of financial issues, make an effort to capitalize on your earning potential.

Keep the Momentum Going

Discussing finances can strengthen your relationship with your partner. It can open doors to be accepting and respecting each others' interests and needs.

"Ask curious questions to try and understand your partner’s viewpoint, explore your respective money histories and family money messages, and [together, work towards] breaking money silence in the marriage [or partnership]," says Burns Kingsbury.

When a couple works together, they can find solutions, tackle goals and become debt-free if they have debt!

About Eric Brown

Eric Brown headshot

Eric is a senior writer and content strategist who writes about personal finance, insurance, real estate, investing and more. His lived experience informs his expertise on these topics: Eric served as a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson for Century 21 Metropolitan in New York City and sold commercial, residential and rental real estate. He also holds an Investment Foundations certification issued by the CFA Institute. Eric earned his Master of Science in Interactive Media from DePaul University.