How Your Partner's Spending Habits Affect Your Relationship, According To A New Study

Kitja/Fotolia

There are a few things that you just have to take control of as you get older. You start wearing sunscreen, you realize that you need water (and not just coffee) to survive, and finally, you decide you need to start figuring out your finances. Because they say money makes the world go round — and there's no denying that being good with money can help make your life easier.

But new research from the University of Arizona shows that your partner's financial behaviors can have an impact on your life, even if it feels like your lives haven't become that intertwined yet. The findings are part of an ongoing APLUS Life Success research project, which has been collecting data since 2008. But in the third wave of data collection, they found something interesting about finances and relationships. They looked at 504 participants who were in committed relationships, with an average age of 24. Of the participants, only 18.5 percent were living together and married, with an additional 30 percent living together but not married. The vast majority of participants — 61.5 percent — were not living together or married to their partner.

You may think that for younger people who aren't living together, there's not really a big issue of shared finances. But the report found that even younger couples were affected by their partner's spending habits. It all comes down to financial socialization, which is basically looking at how people learn about their finances, whether that's budgeting, saving, spending, or anything else to do with money.

Study participants were asked about their parents' financial expectations of them, how often they pay bills on time, and how they save money. They were also asked how often they think their partner's engage in the same financial activities.

Then participants were asked money questions related to their own happiness and well-being, including their romantic satisfaction. As you would probably expect, the participant's own financial behavior had the biggest impact on their lives and well-being generally — although not on their relationship satisfaction. But when it came to their relationship satisfaction and sense of commitment, it was their partner's financial behavior that had an impact. Their partner's finances also impacted their overall sense of well-being, proving that your partner's spending can make a huge difference in your relationship — and your life.

"The overall patterns of results makes sense as we think about the sample: Young adults transitioning to adulthood," Melissa Curran, lead author of the study, tells Bustle. "Here, we would expect that young adults’ own financial socialization has the most impact on their own life outcomes and well-being (e.g., physical health, life satisfaction). We would also expect that perceptions by the young adults about their romantic partners’ financial socialization should have an impact on the young adults’ relationship satisfaction and commitment. Here, it’s also interesting that the impact extends to young adults’ life satisfaction and well-being."

Choosing A Partner Wisely

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Money affects so much of our lives, maybe it's not really a surprise that our partner's spending affects our well-being. And the research seems to suggest that, for a happy relationship, you may want to consider a partner who is good with money.

"I believe what is unique about our study is that we focused on young adults, most of whom were still in dating and non-cohabiting relationship, and found that perceived financial socialization from the romantic partner impacted multiple types of outcomes (relationship quality and non-relationship quality)," Curran says. "This is interesting and suggests that young adults, even those dating (and not in cohabiting or married relationships), should choose their romantic partner wisely, as already the perceived financial socialization of the romantic partner matters for young adults’ outcomes."

It's important to note that being good with money is not the same thing as having a lot of money. People who don't have a lot of money can still make savvy financial decisions. So, you shouldn't let someone's income put you off — it's what they do with their money that matters.

Finances are a tricky area in relationships, but there's no denying how important it is to get in control of your spending and your money. And, whether you realize it or not, your partner's spending can have a big effect on you, so definitely be afraid to talk about money.