How Couples Handle Issues Related to Finances

Dr. Tim Doty appeared on Tulsa’s FOX affiliate’s Daybreak show February 7th, 2013. The program director was given a suggestion to talk about how couples handle financial decisions as a Valentine’s themed check on relationships. Dr. Tim was invited to talk on the subject! While finances may not be at the forefront of people’s minds during the Valentine’s season, it can be a good time, nevertheless to discuss the importance of communicating well through potential areas of conflict. Here is a summary of the literature that Dr. Tim discussed on Daybreak.

There are a few areas of “polite conversation” that we may not have been sufficiently prepared for when we entered into our own committed relationships: money, sex, politics. Most of us develop patterns in relationships that model what we saw in our own families of origin, therefore, if what we are used to in terms of discussions about how couples handle finances was either avoided or heated, we may likely fall into the same patterns ourselves. Research (and probably your own lives can attest) that the number one conflict starter in marriages and committed relationships is often discussions around money1. Further, discussions of money between couples often are important conversations that represent more than just how much money is in the bank, but can be reflective of concerns such as: trust, power, acceptance, security, and respect2,3. HOW we talk to one another in our relationships about issues such as marriage can be a determining factor in how we navigate the success or failure of a committed relationship. Important areas of couples communication skills and emotional understanding4 include: how you have fun together, sexual expectations, how you handle social lives and family, the roles you expect of one another, and spiritual beliefs.

So, what can we do to have better conversations about money, and a host of other potential relational indicators?

  1. Recognize that you may not ONLY be talking about money if you are talking about money. You can have a successful relationship with a little money and you can have a successful relationship with more money, the amount of money is unlikely the core issue.
  2. Start conversations from a position if invitation, not accusation.
  3. Start soft rather than demanding explanation.
  4. Come talk to a professional to have a “marriage checkup” and work together to improve communication skills and understanding of the emotional components of trust, power, acceptance, security and respect in your relationship.


1Storaasli, R. D., & Markman, H. J. (1990). Relationship problems in the early stages of marriage: A longitudinal investigation. Journal Of Family Psychology, 4(1), 80-98. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.4.1.80

2Jenkins, N.H., Stanley, S.M., Bailey, W.C., & Markman, H.J. (1992). You Paid how much for that?!: How to Win at money without losing at love. Jossey-Bass, San Fransicso, CA.

3Gottman, J.M. & Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. Three Rivers Press, New York, NY.

4Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me tight: Seven Conversations for a lifetime of love. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.


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