Relationships and money are deeply connected. Relationship status affects financial status, and finances can have a serious and often negative impact on relationships. Relationships & finance can be a volatile set of issues that can make or break a couple.
People in durable relationships do better financially than those who do not: a study from the Pew Research Center indicates that people with partners are more likely to have completed at least a bachelor’s degree, have significantly higher median earnings, and are less likely to be financially distressed than their single counterparts.
Money and disputes over money can also have a huge impact on relationships. The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA) reports that money issues are the 3rd leading cause of divorce, behind only basic incompatibility and infidelity.
While money issues may not be the leading cause of divorce, they are a leading cause of conflict in relationships. Research on “Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home” determined that money was cited as a conflict subject by 19.3% of husbands and 18.9% of wives. Perhaps more significant, money arguments lasted longer, caused more distress, and were less likely to be resolved than arguments over most other topics.
Other studies indicate that 32% of US adults in relationships have committed financial infidelity: they’ve lied to their partners about their finances.
There’s little doubt that relationships and finances can be a combination that generates conflict. There’s much less information available on what causes that stress and who is more likely to be affected.
To fill in part of that gap, we designed a survey to find out more about how couples and finances interact.
❤️️ The Good
- 83% of American couples talk about money. 92.78% of married respondents, 78.13 of engaged respondents, 83.54% of those in domestic partnerships, and even 63.7% of those who were dating reported that they talk about money and finances “often” or “sometimes”.
- Over 40% of people surveyed had never kept a financial secret from their partner.
- Most Americans earning under $100,000 a year would not spend $100 without talking to their partner first.
💔 The Bad
- Fewer than 10% reported that they had never had conflicts over money.
- Conflicting spending habits, different or incompatible priorities, and debt were reported as the most common causes of arguments over money.
- 20% of Americans don’t talk about money with their partners for fear of starting an argument.
- Over 50% of Americans admit to keeping financial secrets from their partners.
Survey: Relationships & Finance
We asked 1150 Americans eight questions about couples and finances. Here’s a closer look at the respondents.
706 were married, 64 were engaged, 79 were in a domestic partnership or civil union, and 281 were dating.
The age distribution was quite even: 236 respondents were from 18 to 29, 285 from 30-44, 328 from 45-60, and 292 were over 60.
397 respondents had household incomes of $50,000 or below, 341 were between $50,000 and $100,000, 176 were between $100,000 and $150,000, and 147 had household incomes of $150,000 or above.
How Do Couples Manage Their Finances
In my current or most recent romantic relationship, we managed our finances:
Replies to this question broke down, as expected, by relationship status. 66.01% of married individuals managed their finances jointly and 24.79% combined joint and separate management.
79% of dating couples managed finances separately and only 8.9% managed jointly.
More males than females stated that they managed finances jointly and fewer specified separate management, presumably because a higher percentage of male respondents were married.
The $100,000-$150,000 income bracket had the highest percentage of joint management (56%), and also the highest percentage of married individuals (81.25%).
How Often Do Couples Discuss Money or Finances
One immediate takeaway was that almost everyone reported some level of engagement on financial topics.
Even among dating couples, only 9.25% reported that they never talked about money, and only 25% said they rarely talked about money.
Engagement on money and finance topics was highest among married couples (54.82% “very often”, 37.96% “sometimes”), but it remained high in all groups.
Across all age, gender, and income categories fewer than 20% of respondents reported that they rarely or never talked about money.
In your current or most recent relationship, you discussed money or our finances:
Is It Easy for Couples to Talk About Money?
A large majority of respondents across all categories indicated that communication on financial topics was either easy or neutral. In no case did over 5% say that communication was “very difficult” and the combined totals for “very difficult” and “somewhat difficult” was under 20% in most groups and under 25% in all groups.
In your current or most recent relationship, discussing money with your partner was generally:
Responses were remarkably consistent across age, gender, and income lines, though there was a significantly higher number reported communication difficulties in the “under $50,000” income bracket.
Higher income generally correlated with easier communication, with 53.06% of respondents in the $150,000+ income bracket reporting “very easy” communication, the highest of any group.
Older respondents were more likely to report “very easy” communication and younger ones were more likely to report “somewhat easy”, but in each case, those two categories combined to form a majority.
Why Do Couples Avoid Talking About Money
This question also elicited remarkably consistent responses across all categories surveyed. In all but one category (engaged individuals), the largest group, typically between 40% and 50%, reported that they had never avoided talking about money with their partner. The figures were highest among married people (46.32%, and people over 60 (53.77%).
The most commonly cited reasons for avoiding discussion were “I’m not comfortable talking about money” (around 10% for most groups), “There are parts of my financial life that I don’t want to discuss” (20% to 30% in most groups), and “I don’t want to start an argument” (around 20% in most groups).
Have you ever consciously avoided talking about money with your partner? If so, why?
How Does Talking About Money Effect Intimacy
Overall, results indicated that discussing money has a neutral or positive impact on intimacy in a large majority of cases.
What impact has discussions about money had on intimacy in your most recent relationship?
Between 40% and 50% in most groups cited neutral results, with no change in intimacy.
Outside of the dominant neutral response, respondents skewed heavily toward the positive side, reporting that discussing money had positive or very positive results. Combined totals of “positive” and “very positive” responses were between 30% and 50% in most cases.
Fewer than 5% in all categories (except engaged respondents, at 6.25%) reported “very negative” outcomes. “Negative” outcomes were consistently between 8% and 15%, with outliers among domestic partnerships (21.52%) and persons with incomes under $50,000 (16.37%).
Leading Sources of Conflicts About Money
In most groups, only 10%-12% of respondents reported that they never had conflicts over money. That figure is higher among respondents over 60 (21.18%) and lowest among engaged people (5.63%).
Over the course of your most recent relationship, have you ever argued or had conflicts about money? What was it about? Check all that apply.
The leading source of reported conflict was conflicting spending habits, with a consistent average of 15% to 20% across all groups. Just behind were different or incompatible goals and priorities and making purchases without discussion, which were consistently cited by 10% to 15% across all groups. Just behind those was debt, averaging 10%-12%.
Incompatible savings habits and income disparities were cited by 7% to 10% of respondents across all categories
Spending on children and financial secrets were notably low, averaging 5% or below across all categories.
Again, the responses were remarkably consistent across all categories surveyed.
Overall, the responses indicated that American couples are – assuming that they are telling the truth – exhibiting a high degree of honesty about their financial affairs.
Over 40% of every category surveyed, with the exceptions of engaged people (32.81%) and those earning $100,000 to $149,000 (38.64%) selected “none of the above, indicating that they had never kept a financial secret from their partner.
In almost all categories “none of the above” was selected by between 40% and 50% of respondents. People over 60 led the ultra-honest movement, with 63.01% reporting that they have never kept a secret. Memory loss jokes may or may not be appropriate.
Have you ever kept a financial secret from your partner? What was it?
The most common financial secrets varied among different groups:
- 18-29-year-olds were most likely (11.02%) to lie about what they earn.
- Hiding a minor purchase (13.68%) was most common among 30-44-year-olds.
- 45-60-year-olds said they had hid cash (11.49%) or had secret credit cards (10.67%).
Very few respondents – less than 3% in most categories and at most 5% (domestic partnership) admitted to hiding a major purchase.
None of our options was reported by over 15% of respondents in any category, with one exception: 18.18% of people with incomes between $100,000 and $149,000 admitted to hiding minor purchases.
How Much Would People Spend Without Telling Their Partner
We expected the answers to this question to correlate with income, and to some extent they do. For example, only those with incomes above $150,000 had a significant number of answers in the higher brackets: up to $5000 (13.61%), up to $10,000 (13.61%), and above $10,000 (14.97%).
40.81% of those earning below $50,000 reported that they would not spend over $100 without informing their partner, but 46.63% of those earning $50,000-$99,999 reported the same thing, as did 42.61% of respondents with incomes between $100,000 and $149,999. Even in the highest income group, 12.93% reported that they would not spend any money without talking to their partner.
Across all groups, answers leaned heavily toward “less than $100” and “less than $1000”, and those two options combined for close to 60% of the responses in all categories except the highest income group.
How much would you be willing to spend without telling your partner?
This is not a scientific survey and we cannot draw definitive conclusions from the data.
There’s a widespread perception that differences over money and finances pose a major challenge to relationships. Differences over money are frequent and they are difficult to resolve. Even if you argue and feel like you’ve resolved your differences, the bills will still be there tomorrow and the stress doesn’t go away.
The data we gathered support that conclusion in significant ways. For example:
- Over half of the respondents avoid talking to their partners about money.
- Half of the respondents admitted to keeping financial secrets from their partners.
- 20% avoid talking about money with their partners because they want to avoid conflict.
- over 90% of respondents reported arguing with their partners over financial issues.
There are also positive takeaways.
- American couples do talk about money. Over 83% reported that they discuss finances “always” or “sometimes”.
- These discussions are not destructive. Almost 85% of respondents reported that financial discussions had a positive or neutral impact on intimacy.
- 47% reported that they had never kept a financial secret from their partner, a higher figure than we expected.
- Over 56% reported that they would not spend over $100 without discussing it with their partner first.
Financial and relationship counselors and financial therapists regularly advise frequent communication on money issues, and our data suggest that large numbers of Americans are already following that advice and reaping the benefits.
There’s No Contradiction
The data that our survey generated have both positive and negative takeaways. That doesn’t mean they are contradictory. Instead, we can conclude what most of us already knew: the interface between relationships and finances is complicated and many people struggle with it.
We take positive steps, like communicating about money. Sometimes those steps lead to conflict and discourage us from communicating.
Americans clearly think honesty is important, but they don’t always practice it. That’s not surprising: we rarely live up to our own expectations.
If we were going to reach one conclusion, it would be this: we are not as good as we would like to be and not as bad as we’re afraid that we are. Couples can expect conflict over money, but they can also resolve those conflicts, address their causes, and make progress.
About This Survey
The survey responses were collected from August 8 to August 9, 2022, via SurveyMonkey, with a total of 1,150 participants from across the USA. Respondents represent a national sample balanced by census data of age, gender, income level, and region. The survey had a margin of error +/- 4% with a 99% confidence level.
All the data included in this study is available via public domain. This means all statistics may be copied without permission. We do, however, appreciate citation as the source via a link. 🤗
If you’d like to perform your own analysis on this dataset you can download the raw data here.