The Effects of Financial Stress on Marriage: Psychological and Physiological Impacts

effects of financial stress on marriage

Marriage is a sacred bond between two people that love one another. It takes time, hard work, and dedication to really make it work. Unfortunately, outside elements sometimes take a toll on a marriage, causing couples who once vowed to make it through sickness and health to drift apart. Often times, money plays a large role as one of those elements. So, what are the effects of financial stress on marriage? How does it impact us psychologically and physiologically?

The Effects of Financial Stress on Marriage:

No matter what your social status is or your demographic, none of us are safe from the grips of the pressures that weigh on our relationships. Marriage, in particular, is arguably one of the hardest relationships to maintain in our lives.  Not only does compromise come into play but money does as well. From budgeting to spending, these decisions can make or break your relationship. But, what are the actual effects of financial stress on marriage?

Psychological Impact:

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), financial distress can have destructive effects on not only the married couple but their children as well. Money issues can cause feelings of failure, tension in the household, and overall negative behaviors that trickle throughout the family. Common psychological effects, the AAMFT states, includes but is not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Overwhelming levels of stress
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Confusion
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Generally, this financial stress feeds into feelings of feeling incapable and developing unrealistic expectations of ourselves. If left alone, these effects can escalate and turn what was once a healthy and empowering environment into a dark and desolate place.

Physiological Impact:

Financial stress also hurts us physically. In a 2003 Ohio State University research paper by Theodore F. Robles and Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser titled, “‘The physiology of marriage: pathway to health,” studies show that social relationships have an impact on our long-term health, especially in terms of marriage. When in a loving, positive relationship, mortality rates and illness have been shown to decrease, while these numbers increased for those in stressful marriages. Marital stress, brought on often by economic hardship, can affect the body in three main ways, the research finds: cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. Therefore, physiological issues that may arise from such may include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Compromised immune system
  • Higher levels of stress
  • Irregular production of hormones
  • Over or under eating

When this happens, we may not understand why our body is reacting to stress this way, and we may try to play the blame game. However, it’s important to remember that instead of allowing ourselves to adapt to this way of living, we need to fight it. What can we do?

How to Fight the Negativity Financial Stress Causes on a Marriage:

When you first get married, you likely have an excellent perception of your spouse, Benjamin R. Karney of the American Psychological Association wrote in this 2010 article. Over time, however, that perception can dwindle, depending on how positive you are able to stay about your relationship. This, Karney writes, is what happy couples do; they are able to turn their spouse’s shortcomings into explanations of a bigger picture. He uses the example of defining your significant other’s distance one evening as a result of a bad day at work rather than a lack of interest in you.

Unfortunately, long periods of stress can still tear apart even the strongest couples. To combat this, keeping financial stress as low as possible will help to eliminate one more element that can be harmful to your marriage. A few ways to do this are:

  • Recognize your own faults/contribution to the financial issues. Instead of placing blame, take a look outside of yourself and see how you might also be contributing to any monetary problems happening in the household.
  • Talk to your partner. Although conversation about money (budgeting, the what-ifs, etc.) should ideally happen prior to walking down the aisle, it is sometimes still not enough to keep the strain away. Have recurring conversations with your spouse about the budget and managing the money, and see what you can do (together) to make positive changes.
  • Get it down on paper. Karney recommends what he calls a Financial Performance Improvement Plan, where you identify two to three specific setbacks with money and create a solution for each. Be as specific as possible and create a deadline to ensure follow-through. Repeat as much as necessary until you have a potential solution for each money problem.
  • Don’t forget to nourish the relationship. Just because you have financial stress does not mean you need to neglect the emotional aspects of your marriage. As you try to improve your situation, consider cheap date nights or weekend getaways that fit your budget.
  • Talk to a therapist. You should consider talking to a therapist, either together or separately, to overcome any of the psychological and physiological impacts that may have already begun to take place from the effects of financial stress on marriage. This is especially true if you are having suicidal or hopeless thoughts and have a hard time feeling motivated to work and so on. Being healthy and taking care of yourself is extremely important in maintaining wholesome relationships both within and outside of your marriage.

Anyone can be a target to a marriage dealing with economic issues. Financial stress does not have to mean a lack of funds; it can also mean not agreeing on how to spend the combined income. It’s OK to ask for outside help from friends and family members to see how they may be able to relate or what input they can provide as an outsider. Sometimes, the simplest solution is taking a look outside of ourselves so that we can help ourselves.

What is your take on the topic? What advice would you add? 

How to Get Your Spouse on Board with Saving More

spouse

It’s no secret that finances are a touchy subject in relationships, and I’ve talked about this before here on Suburban Finance. But, one of the best ways to prevent issues is to be very open and honest about money in the household. How do you do that, though, if you have a hard time getting your spouse on board with a budget?

When my beau and I moved in together four years ago, we had to talk about all the unexciting (but important!) stuff like who is going to handle what bills, how we would split the rent and so on. As our relationship and lives have evolved, we have had to revisit this conversation over the years.

Ryan made the decision to go to medical school, a decision of which I am very proud and supportive; however, this means our spending habits have to change. Between the two of us, I am typically the one always thinking of ways to save. I had to get him on the frugal life bandwagon as well so that we will have less to worry about once he is in school full-time.

He may not be my official spouse yet, but here are a few do’s and don’ts on how to keep the money conversation from turning into a war:

Don’t be controlling

Household decisions need to be made together, not forced upon one another. Everything Ryan and I do, we try to make it a team effort. Money decisions are no different. Over the last seven and a half years, we’ve learned that the way we view money and saving do differ. So, try to pick ways to save that work for each other instead of against each other. Ultimately, you only have control over yourself. You can encourage change, but the more you push, the more resistance (or resentment) you may get. Realizing this first is the initial step.

Do set aside time for the conversation

Conversations involving finances in the home should not be rushed. Set aside time with your wife or husband to discuss one another’s financial goals. Be understanding of your spouse and their point of view as you try to explain your own.

For me, I mentioned wanting to use money we would have spent on ordering food three weeks in a row on a nice (much needed) date night out. Ryan agreed, and so he is much more conscious of this before dialing the phone for take out. This is just one real-life example of many, but I began my own conversation with bringing up this point as well as the amount spent and how it could be better used in our lives.

What might work for you is trying to find that common ground of things you may want to do together but can’t due to other financial obligations. Working together to find ways to accomplish those things is so rewarding in so many ways. Perhaps your matching goals are as simple as wanting to pay off your credit card debt within the year. This is a great starting point in developing a savings plan together.

Don’t judge your spouse’s spending habits

Ryan has a lot of outdoor hobbies, so he often likes to spend his extra cash on items for his mountain bike or new running shoes. My current spending habits are very focused on my business as well as updating our home. If either of us judged the other for how we spend our money, it would put an extra strain on our relationship.

If you want to make changes, start with yourself. Then, you can bring this up in casual conversations as follow-ups from your previous money discussion, such as:

  • “So, I decided not to buy all those new clothes and put that money in my retirement fund instead.”
  • “I’m doing this thing where any time I want to buy coffee out, I put that money into our travel savings instead. I was hoping we might be able to do that weekend getaway in the mountains we’ve been talking about.”

As mentioned in point number one, don’t try to force actions; encourage them.

Do be open and honest

If you are finding that you still have a hard time getting your spouse on board, it’s time to get a little more straight forward. Bring up the household expenses and income and go over the numbers in more detail together. Show your husband or wife why you are concerned and ask for his or her input on suggestions for change. Of course, you can discuss your own ideas, but again, finances should be a team effort; therefore, you really need to focus on gaining their insight on the situation as well. Find out their concerns and work it out together.

This may be a good time to call on an expert. Your expert of choice does not have to be a therapist. You can simply look to a financial professional and/or purchase a well-received book regarding money saving tips and building wealth. Ask your significant other to read it as well. When you are on the road together, you can download an Audible version to ensure you are both absorbing the information together. Personally, I recommend Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

Usually, what I have found works best (and what seems to also work best for my friends and family) is simply showing the numbers. There are a lot of great apps out there to help calculate where you are spending your money the most, like Mint.com, but I typically just refer to my online banking account, which does this for me as well. Choose what works best for you.

Household budgeting is no easy task, and it can take just as much as work as your relationship, I have found. It seems the biggest issues is just not knowing how much money is being wasted. But, realizing one another’s goals and expressing interest in achieving them together has proven successful for me and my relationship. If your spouse knows how important it is for you to not only see your own savings goals met but his or hers, you’ll find saving to actually be pretty fun and exciting.

Is this a challenge you have faced? What has worked for you?