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By Carol Church

When two people walk down the aisle with stars in their eyes, we hope that fights and arguments are the farthest thing from their minds. But of course, for all couples, some conflict is inevitable.

Did you know that financial issues are one of the top problem areas in marriage? According to research, money is one of the most frequent causes of marital arguments; one study found it to be the #1 source of conflicts for newlyweds. Money troubles may even be the marital problem that predicts divorce most strongly of all.

These concerns can be cyclical, too. Lack of money and money problems create stress, which leads to fighting and unhappiness, which may even lead to communication problems that cause more money issues! This issue can get especially bad if couples tend to fight about money in an angry, bitter, and unproductive way.

For service members, who face often other challenges, fights about money are another stressor that they definitely don’t need. However, as we all know, money can sometimes be a tough issue in military families, what with unexpected expenses, “up and down” compensation, and lower pay for many.

So, what can couples do to manage money proactively and productively so that this issue doesn’t sabotage their happiness? Relationship experts and financial gurus offer some advice that can help.

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Ways to Reduce Money Problems and Financial Conflict Within a Marriage

  • Communicate about financial habits and beliefs: The financial attitudes, habits, and beliefs that we learn in childhood and further develop in adulthood can have a huge effect on how we manage our finances as adults…but styles definitely vary. (Are you a saver or spender? Do you embrace, tolerate, or fear risk?) To make the money merger a smooth one, couples should start talking about this issue long before wedding bells are ringing. For instance, will all accounts be shared? How much “fun money” does each spouse get? Getting on the “same page” can eliminate a lot of strife. Check out the Money Habitudes program to learn more about these concepts.
  • Learn to budget and live within the family’s means: Gaining a basic grasp of how money goes in and out of the family and learning where to cut may seem basic, but it’s easy to put off or avoid. Apps and money management programs can help make this process easier.
  • Be cautious of debt: For most couples, some debt will be inevitable. However, it’s important to draw a distinction between consumer debt, such as credit card balances, car payments, or payday loans, and other types of debt, like mortgages and student loans. Studies find that consumer debt is linked to lower marriage satisfaction, more fights, and more feelings that things are “unfair” in the marriage. What’s more, over time, couples that continue to take on debt may be more likely to split up. To give marriages their best chance, keep consumer debt balances low.
  • Have a plan: Our financial lives proceed more smoothly when we create measurable, achievable goals and a plan to meet them. Couples who make time to set this into motion will benefit from the feeling of accomplishment and teamwork that follows. Don’t forget to discuss your hopes and dreams for your financial future, too.
  • Prioritize savings and build an emergency fund: Wise couples start early in building savings, even when money is tight. Setting early goals of putting a certain percentage of each paycheck away will do wonders in keeping the financial wolf away from the door and preventing the stress and conflict that can tear couples apart when emergency strikes. Programs like America Saves and Military Saves can help.

What Do Happy Couples Do?

Here’s one last thought. An interesting study looked at about 65 “very happy” married couples and asked them how they managed money in their relationships. While not every couple handled things the same way, there were some interesting patterns. On the whole, these blissful men and women tended to:

  • Avoid debt
  • Deputize one person to be the “money manager”
  • Live a frugal lifestyle
  • Enjoy high levels of trust and communication

For couples wanting to build a strong, lifelong partnership, trust and healthy communication about money and finances are definitely part of the picture. A big part of accomplishing this is simply being deliberate about money rather than making assumptions or letting things “just happen.” Service members and their families have unique resources available to them to help them manage their financial lives; with assistance, they can create a healthy financial partnership.

Save the dates of our 3-part Family Finances Series which begins July 10 with a webinar on Separation & Single Parenting in the Military.


Dew, J. (2008). Debt change and marital satisfaction change in recently married couples. Family Relations, 57(1), 60-71.

Dew, J. (2011). The association between consumer debt and the likelihood of divorce. Journal of Family Economic Issues, 32, 554-564. doi: 10.1007/s10834-011-9274-z

Dew, J., Britt, S., & Huston, S. (2012). Examining the relationship between financial issues and divorce. Family Relations 61, 628-615. DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00715.x

National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families. (n.d.) Strong families: Tips for healthy financial management.

Skogrand, L., Johnson, A.C., Horrocks, A.M. et al. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. (2011) 32: 27. doi:10.1007/s10834-010-9195-2