How to stop money from ruining your relationship

How to stop money from ruining your relationship

Money stress is the number-one reason marriages end in divorce. Don’t let it become your fate – protect your relationship by managing finances openly and fairly with these expert tips.

A 2018 poll of more than 2 000 British adults found that money worries were the top reason for marriages dissolving, and with four in 10 marriages in South Africa ending in divorce before their 10th anniversary, it’s more important than ever to develop healthy money habits in your relationship now.

Relationship finances tip #1: Talk openly and honestly about money

As unromantic a topic as it is, money conversations shouldn’t be avoided in your relationship, even in its early stages. “Few couples speak openly about financial expectations at the beginning of a relationship, and tend to accept that it will all ‘fall into place’ naturally,” says Carol Dixon, a counselling psychologist specialising in Imago Relationship Therapy. “However, financial challenges and conflict can become the root of power struggles in long-term relationships.”
Instead of making assumptions, she says, it’s important to be curious about your partner’s relationship with money, and to become aware of your own expectations. You may have come from different backgrounds where money was treated differently, and therefore your own relationship with it could be quite different to that of your partner. “Your relationship with money starts when you are young, and involves experiences in your family. How your caretakers handled money as individuals and as a couple will affect the way you experience the role of money in your own life.”
Have an open conversation in which you explore each other’s past experiences with finances, and how these inform your individual and relationship money expectations. Don’t hold back! “Be frank and honest about your financial priorities and, yes, even actual spending and debt,” suggests Danelle van Heerde, head of advice processes and tools at Sanlam Personal Finance. “Keeping secrets about your finances, whether it’s spending too much or building an investment on the side, is sure to cause issues in a relationship.” Read this for tips on how to tackle these often-uncomfortable conversations with confidence.

Relationship finances tip #2: Ask the right questions

“Plenty of discussions need to happen before a budget can be discussed or agreed on,” says Dixon. “As a couple, you need to understand the income-generating capacity in the relationship, and each person’s earning potential,” she adds. Discuss what financial model you are both comfortable with, and practical issues like:

  • Will you both work?
  • What are our existing debts, and how are these managed?
  • How does each person manage finances currently?
  • How much financial freedom and independence is needed in the relationship?
  • Who will pay accounts?
  • Will you have a joint bank account?
  • Is using a credit card acceptable?
  • Do accounts get paid immediately/monthly/annually, and by whom?

Van Heerde adds that this can create the ideal opportunity for discussions about joint financial goals too. “Decide on your long-term goals and priorities together, whether they involve saving for a holiday, your children’s education or retirement, as well as your short-term priorities,” she says. “Make your goals specific – for example, ‘We’ll renovate our house in two years’ or ‘Let’s take a family road trip next year’.”

Use this handy online savings tool to help achieve your goals together.

Relationship finances tip #3: Work with a budget

Either one of you might hear the word ‘budget’ and want to run for the hills. The good news is that, while it’s important to agree on a budget and stick to it, one of you can volunteer to take on the responsibility of writing up the budget, as long as you are transparent and share it with the other person.
“Create a system of financial transparency and inclusion,” suggests Dixon. “Decide who in the relationship takes on which role and how they will manage their roles.”
This actually gives you the chance to fortify trust in your relationship, and allow you or your partner’s strengths to shine in a practical way. “If one of you is better with budgeting or saving, let him or her manage the family budget and investments,” suggests van Heerde. “If one of you has issues with spending or managing debt, let the other partner handle the finances.”
Understanding and agreeing on who owns the money versus who is responsible for the spending, and understanding who is more of a saver, and who is more of a spender, is vital to developing a respectful collaborative and shared economy, says Dixon.

Want to budget, but not sure where to start? Use this handy guide.

Allow for irregular and ad hoc expenses in your budget, van Heerde suggests, like school uniforms or car services. And don’t forget to allocate money to an emergency fund for unexpected expenses.
“Track your actual spend against your budget every month and tweak it if necessary – there will be surprises or new expenses along the way,” she suggests.

Relationship finances tip #4: Don’t make money the enemy

“Don’t use money to control your partner or to punish them,” cautions Dixon. This sounds obvious, but in a partnership where trust and intimacy are defining characteristics, it’s easier than you think to fall into the trap of allowing money to be used to make a point or become a tool for manipulation. “It has been misquoted that money is the root of all evil, and the correct version of this is ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’,” says Dixon. “Financial differences do not have to cause conflict: they can lead to a richer and more creative way of managing money. However, when money is valued above your partner, reactive behaviour to feelings of unimportance in the relationship can create conflict that has more to do with the relationship dynamics than the money itself.” Dixon and van Heerde suggest some dos and don’ts for how money is managed between the two of you.


  • Sit down and discuss finances on regular basis.
  • Have a financial vision and the determination to make this happen.
  • Share your anxieties without blaming and shaming your partner, and work towards a greater understanding of how their emotional needs are connected to their financial needs and behaviour. Consult a therapist to explore and understand the bigger underlying picture.
  • Always discuss major expenses. Do your research and agree on a way forward.
  • Respect one another’s needs for both spending and saving. “Make sure each of you also have money that you can spend any way you want, whether that is splurging on shoes or saving for a rainy day,” suggests van Heerde.


  • Brush problems under the carpet. “Deal with financial anxieties immediately,” says Dixon. “See warning signs, and address them quickly. Help your partner understand what the specific conflict is related to in your past.”
  • Play power games – if one person is better at bookkeeping and more efficient at paying accounts, don’t see this as a threat, but as a benefit.
  • Let your different money habits and values be a continuous source of conflict. Tackle conversations as a united front, being honest about your individual strengths and weaknesses.

Relationship finances tip #5: When you need outside help, get it

Having different views about money doesn’t need to spell disaster for your relationship. If you feel in over your head, or like your finances could do with an objective eye, reach out and get it. It could save your relationship.
“Speaking with a registered financial planner can be very valuable, helping you to agree on priorities, especially when you have very different views about money,” says van Heerde. Dixon agrees, adding that jointly consulting a financial expert about savings and investments can secure the financial status of your relationship, while a therapist can help with emotional issues around money. Imago Relationship Therapy is particularly well suited for helping couples deal with financial disparities.

Is tension around money causing a rift in your relationship? Meeting with a financial planner can help you both meet halfway and move forward stronger together. Book a meeting now.

Want to learn more?

We send out regular emails packed with useful advice, ideas and tips on everything from saving and investing to budgeting and tax. If you're a Sanlam Reality member and not receiving these emails, update your contact details now.

Update Now