How to deal with money issues in a romantic relationship

How to deal with money issues in a romantic relationship

According to the Love and Money Report, 60% of couples are having trouble meeting their financial goals and less than half found it easy to talk about their finances during the pandemic

Working on understanding and communication is key to working through money issues and saving a relationship that is under stress. Money issues which are not dealt with can quickly escalate and in the worst cases can undermine the relationship and eventually lead to separation, divorce or the partnership breaking up.  

It’s important to remember that in every relationship two people may have very different attitudes, beliefs & behaviours about money. As we will cover in more detail, being able to understand each other’s point of view is the first step towards strengthening your relationship so that it can withstand the pressures of financial stress. 

Greater awareness will help you deepen your emotional intimacy and sexual satisfaction as you draw nearer to each other and can result in a closer relationship. Communication brings you closer together and reduces painful emotions, such as shame, low-self esteem and guilt which can be felt by one or both partners if money issues are not out in the open.  

Each week we see many couples for couples counselling, and we have seen the issue of financial problems coming up with increasing regularity. How couples deal with money can impact the relationship and so we are going to give you our best advice about how to deal with money issues in romantic relationships. 

Which Role Do You & Your Partner Play? 

The first point to address is the roles we play in our relationships. This is important because, although every single relationship is different there are common roles which individuals play inside the relationship, concerning managing their finances. The two most common situations are: 

Divided Financial Responsibility

In a relationship where the financial responsibility is divided, couples share tasks that need to be managed between them. For example, one individual might be responsible for the grocery shopping and the budget associated with that, the second individual might be responsible for paying the other bills. 

Sole Financial Responsibility 

In some relationships, one partner takes sole responsibility for the finances. This can take place whether there is a joint or individual account. The partner taking sole responsibility will pay all the bills and manage the ongoing finances including paying off debt and planning for the future. 

The first step in raising awareness about your financial situation is to recognize which roles you both play. It can help to begin a conversation around finances by simply starting with the basics and being honest about how your finances are currently organized between you. 

Here are some tips for approaching the conversation: 

  • Recognize each other’s strengths and talk about what is currently working well 
  • Approach the conversation with an open mind this will help you both to raise awareness about the current situation
  • Avoid blaming one another for anything that has gone wrong, instead try to understand your partner’s perspective rather than trying to convince them that you are right

Your Money Mindset Is Formed Early On

One of the key theories in developmental Psychology is Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. 1. The famous Bobo Doll Experiment showed that children learn through imitation. The child copies the behaviour and then will wait to see if they are rewarded or punished for the behaviour, and will continue to repeat the behaviour that is rewarded. Once an action has been repeated the child will decide whether to repeat that action based on whether their behaviour was rewarded or not. This is important because it tells us that how our parents handle money influences how we are likely to handle money in the future.  

It also tells us that the way our parents rewarded our good or bad behaviour around money also had an impact on how we learn about which actions should be repeated. A common situation is that children see their parents spending a lot of money and so the child wants to repeat this behaviour when they start earning their own money. 

However, high levels of spending might be okay for someone on a high salary but someone on an average wage can quickly overspend. When they get into debt or need to be bailed out of a poor financial situation the parents step in and help their child, unknowingly rewarding poor financial decisions and encouraging them to continue overspending. This is an example of one family dynamic, there are countless others which play out, some leading to a positive money mindset and some leading to a negative one.

Money issues in relationships-min

To help you have an open, honest conversation about money we have created this exercise you can do together.  It can help to find a time when you are both available without competing demands, it can also help to find somewhere neutral but private to have this conversation.  A quiet cafe can work well.

Exercise: Uncover your money mindset 

Get a piece of paper and answer the questions below, make sure each of you gets to have your say and note down a response from each perspective. Try to answer each question in as much detail as possible.

Do you have any specific memories of your parents managing finances at home? If yes, try to detail the memory here.

Did your parents (tick whichever applies):

a. Save everything

b. Spend it all

c. Was there some balance

Do you remember your parents fighting about money? If yes, can you remember what was said?

Did your parents ever get stressed that there wasn’t enough money or tell you there wasn’t enough money?

Do you remember how you felt when your parents were discussing money?

What did your parents teach you about money?

Did your parents encourage financial responsibility?

Do you feel prepared to handle money now?

Do you ever find yourself wanting to avoid the topic?

Do you feel anxious when talking about finances?  

How do you feel about doing money-related tasks such as checking your bank account? 

How do you feel about your financial future, is it something you feel positive about, or not? 

In answering these questions you will be able to uncover your money mindset and how that is influencing how you feel about money now. This is a really powerful exercise to do together and can act as a starting point to engage in conversation about your individual money mindset and how it is influencing you. 


Accepting Responsibility


It’s really important that as you go through the process of understanding your financial position you do not blame one another and are willing to accept responsibility for the situation. Commonly, one or both partners will blame the other to avoid accepting the role that they had to play. This is called deflection and is one of the 12 defence mechanisms identified by Sigmund Freud. 2.

Facing up to what we have failed at and looking at those areas we struggle in is incredibly difficult. It takes a strong person to be able to accept responsibility and fault in a situation and be able to willingly look at what they have done wrong and try to improve.

Being able to slow down, breathe and recognize some ways in which you have contributed to the situation is difficult but it can transform the relationship dynamic. However, it is hard to pause and reflect if your partner is attacking you. When you are both attacking each other, you are putting each other on defence automatically which doesn’t allow you to be objective in the situation. Both attack and defence are the complete opposite of looking inwards and accepting responsibility.


When should you seek the support of a trained couples counsellor? 

Each couple must decide whether to seek support or not. A trained couples counsellor can help you to identify what is going on in the situation. When we conflict with one another, the core root of the problem is not always obvious.   

The root of the problem becomes even less obvious to us when we are emotionally invested in the situation like we are in romantic relationships. Emotional Focused Therapy (EMT), talks about the difference between primary, secondary and maladaptive emotions. 3.

Very often, when we are lashing out at our partner in anger, this emotion is a secondary emotion which is covering up the first primary emotion. You may feel angry at your partner because you’re feeling fearful about your financial situation. Fear is the primary emotion which has been replaced by anger. Some other common primary feelings are sadness that your partner may leave the relationship or the relationship is going to fall apart and also the inadequacy of not feeling good enough as a partner. 

A trained couples counsellor can help you identify what is going on in the relationship dynamic and how you and your partner are feeling. It is very difficult to come to a resolution if the core, primary feeling has not been uncovered. Some couples find that they can de-escalate conflict by themselves, however, some need help to do that.

If you feel you need support we have trained therapists who specialize in couples counsellingBook a session here. The team is always here to support you. 



Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63(3), 575–582. 

Freud, A. (1993). The ego and the mechanisms of Defence. Karnac Books. 

Greenberg, L. S. (2010). Emotion-focused therapy: A clinical synthesis. FOCUS, 8(1), 32–42. 


Author: Cheryl Clarke graduated with a BA Hons in English Literature & Creative Writing, she is currently studying an MSc in Psychology at Northumbria University. Cheryl has also completed a teaching qualification in Mindfulness & Compassion and she writes about Mental Health and Stress.

Peer Reviewed: Trish McLean is the Director of The Story Isn’t Over. She has worked in healthcare for 25 years. First, as a registered nurse and then as a counsellor and psychotherapist. Trish has a Ph.D. in Theology from Edinburgh University in Scotland and has worked all over the world including in India, Uganda, the United Kingdom and, now, in Canada.

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