5 Steps to Save Your Financially Stressed Marriage

If money issues are threatening your “happily ever after,” then here are ways to tackle the problem.


Do money troubles have you feeling like your marriage is circling the drain?

Don’t give up on your spouse yet!

Even financially stressed marriages can be salvaged, although it’s not always easy. Your family’s unique circumstances will determine how best to approach — and solve — money problems, but here are five steps to get you started:

Step 1: Air out your financial dirty laundry

You’re upset that he spends an obscene amount with his friends each week, and he may be furious that you nit-pick every purchase he makes. Get it all out.

In my mind, this may be the most important step. You can’t move forward positively until you get rid of all the resentment and anger that linger over past mistakes.

“Bring everything to the table,” advises Anne Malec, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Marriage in Modern Life.” “You need real openness and honesty to address the issue. Both sides need to be accountable.”

Well, you think, this surely sounds like a perfect recipe for a knock-down, drag-out fight. And you’re right. It can go horribly wrong, so you need to go about this carefully.

The best way is to go to a third party – a therapist, a financial planner, a pastor – who can act as a mediator for this emotional discussion.

If you believe that isn’t possible, you need to think long and hard about when and how best to bring up the subject with your spouse. Pick a low-key time and drop the accusatory tone. Use “I” statements whenever possible and take a soft approach to opening the discussion.

As in:

I feel frustrated that our bank account is always overdrawn. What can we do about that?

Not:

You need to man up, think of the family and stop spending so much!

Regardless of how nicely you put it, be prepared for them to respond with something critical about you and then seriously consider whether it has any merit. Remember you’re probably not perfect either, and you can’t make headway if you can’t admit your shortcomings.

Step 2: Have a monthly money meeting

So now that you’ve cleared the air, it’s time to keep the lines of communication open. The best way to do that is to have a monthly money meeting.

“You look at how you’re doing this month compared to last month,” Malec says. “You work jointly as partners to address upcoming expenses.”

We won’t go into too much detail here because we have another article on how to talk money with your spouse. Read that to help these discussions go smoothly.

Step 3: Create a budget together

If your finances are in the toilet, chances are you don’t have a budget. Or if you do have a budget, it’s one that one spouse created and then decreed the other spouse follow.

You need to identify your shared vision for what your family will look like. What are your goals? What are your priorities? Then work together to create a budget that supports those dreams.

For more on this step, check out our article on how to create a budget you can actually live on.

Step 4: Give each spouse their own spending money

Your budget isn’t done until it includes a little cash for each spouse to spend freely each month.

“Each couple gets an equal amount and gets to spend it without criticism or question from the other,” Malec says.

This is so important because spending is such a huge piece of the financial happiness puzzle. Zero spending cash can make a spouse feel stifled or controlled while unbridled spending can spell bankruptcy.

According to a survey conducted by Edelman Financial Services, 56 percent of those polled said spending was the main reason for money-related divorces. So agree that each partner can spend, within reason, and remember that you don’t get to say anything about how your better half uses their cash, even if you do think it’s ridiculous to blow $50 on pizza and beer.

Step 5: Commit to being a team

Did you play a team sport in school? Do you remember what that was like?

You may have had one particular teammate who didn’t do such a great job. They might make a mistake and cost the team a point, but assuming you were a good team player, you’d still pat them on the back and tell them it was OK.

You need to have that same team attitude with your spouse. Don’t think of them as an adversary or an obstacle you need to overcome. Instead, play to their strengths and be their biggest fan, even when they make mistakes.

“A person who doesn’t want to talk about [money] may feel uneducated about money, may feel anxious about money or don’t want to be held accountable,” Malec says.

You need to figure out what’s going on with your spouse and develop a game plan to address it without making them feel like a total loser. Malec adds that those who become defensive or angry over money probably didn’t see healthy financial discussions growing up and may just be modeling bad behavior they witnessed as children.

Saving a financially stressed marriage involves a lot of hard work and compromise, but for those who come out the other side in happier marriages with better finances, the sacrifices are well worth the rewards.

Do you have ideas and experience to share on handling finances in marriage? Weigh in on our Facebook page or in comments below. And be sure to share this article on your Facebook page!

Stacy Johnson

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