Marriage Money Problem

Your Quick Guide to Relationship Success
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Your Quick Guide to Relationship Success
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A marriage money problem, according to statistics, is why as many as 80% of couples split up. You may wonder how relationship counseling can help you with financial issues. A counselor, after all, is not a financial planner.

Steven M Cohn, PhD, LMFT
The Portland Couples Counseling Center
1940 NE Broadway
Portland, Oregon  97232

However, one of the major causes of marriage money problems is lack of communication, a problem with which relationship counselors are very familiar

Drawing money

Some couples hide money from each other, or withdraw money from a joint account without telling the other person. This leaves the other person in a jam when he or she tries to withdraw from the same account and finds the well dry. Consider one woman, who would buy clothes and leave them in the trunk of her car for a few weeks. When she wore them, and her husband asked if they were new, she could honestly say, “No, I’ve had these for awhile.” You would think he must have been wondering where the money was going.

A recent study in the United Kingdom(1) looked at how decisions to spend money on clothing were made. When families were given extra money as a “child allowance,” the money went to buy women’s and children’s clothing, rather than to men’s clothing. Was this a joint decision, or one made exclusively by the females?

One of the issues causing marriage money problems is whether or not partners pool their money together or keep separate accounts. One study(2) suggests that many couples keep their money separate for reasons of maintaining a financial identity (credit rating, for example) for each partner. However, the study did find that separate accounts caused marriage money problems later in the relationship if the wife decided to cut back on her work hours to attend to childcare.

Another study(3) looked at which partner is most likely to control the expenditures of a household. Interestingly, although some income was pooled for expenses such as housing or utility bills, traditional gender roles determined how the non-pooled income was spent. According to the study, childcare expenses increased only when the woman’s income increased. Even if both the husband and the wife were full-time workers, the man’s income did not determine the amount spent on childcare. If this issue was not talked through in advance, tension could increase in the relationship.

One final study in Denmark looked at marriage money problems.(4) This study focused on what determined whether or not couples pooled their incomes. The biggest factors were found to be the length of time the couple had been married and whether or not there were any children. It seems that the longer we’re married and if we have children, it makes us more willing to pool our resources. When we are more secure that the marriage will last, we are more willing to have a joint account. However, unless the partners have good communication skills about money, it is likely that marriage money problems can still result.


(1)Lundberg, Shelly, Robert Pollak, and Terence Wales (1997) “Do Husband and Wives Pool their Resources? Evidence from the U.K. Child Benefit” Journal of Human Resources 32(3).

(2)Burgoyne, Carole B., Janet Reibstein, Anne Edmunds, and Valda Dolman (April, 2007) “Money Management Systems in Early Marriage: Factors Influencing Change and Stability” Journal of Economic Psychology 28(2): 214-228.

(3)Phipps, Shelley and Peter Burton (1998) “What’s Mine is Yours? The Influence of Male and Female Incomes on Patterns of Household Expenditure” Economica 65 (260), 599-613.

(4)Bonke, Jens, Hans Uldall-Poulsen (2007) “Why Do Families Actually Pool Their Income? Evidence from Denmark” Review of Economics of the Household 5:2, 113.

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