Why Do Couples Break Up Over Money? 7 Millennial Women On How Financial Issues Ended Their Relationship
Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating.
Romantic relationships end for all kinds of reasons, and you may hear that money is a common topic of contention. What about couples whose relationships have ended over money? Whatever the case may be, money matters matter, and so many variables come into play: who pays for what, who pays the bills, how joint money is spent, etc. As time goes on, it's easy for money issues to take precedent in the relationship, and cause rifts along the way. But when are money problems too much for the relationship to bear?
"Communication about money can be difficult for couples," Relationship Specialist Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, and author of Relationship Reset: Secrets from a Couples Therapist That Will Revolutionize Your Love for a Lifetime tells Bustle. "Money and sex are two of the most uncomfortable topics for couples to discuss openly. For a variety of reasons partners may feel like it is taboo to talk about money, including: It invades their privacy, they feel embarrassed, they feel out of control, they don't feel educated enough, or they don't think there is a reason to talk about it. However, just like talking about your sexual health and history is critical for each partner, so is talking about your financial health and history. Without these conversations, assumptions are made, damaging secrets can be kept, and the freedom of being known and accepted is impossible to achieve. Betrayal from financial mismanagement can be traumatizing and have a similar effect on a relationship as infidelity. Recovering often requires the support of a couples therapist and a financial planner to make sure that, going forward, there is some accountability."
So what's a money issue worth breaking up over? Dating site EliteSingles did a survey, "Love and Money," of 581 men and women in its membership pool and discovered that different spending habits can be a dealbreaker. They found that 79 percent of men and 70 percent of women think that a partner sensible with their finances is preferable to a lavish spender. "In relationships, money can be an issue of contention," Zoe Coetzee, EliteSingles' in-house relationship psychologist and dating expert, tells Bustle. "Money can represent both power and security in relationships, making it a challenging, but necessary, issue for couples to navigate. Financial boundaries should be respected in relationships, and continually overstepping this line is the sign of an issue."
The gist? Talking about money with your partner is key to maintaining a healthy relationship, financially and otherwise. Below, seven women weigh in on how a money issue ended their relationship.
1. Kelly, 33
"My ex-boyfriend was really rubbish with my money, the complete opposite to me. Despite being on a part-time wage, I paid for all our bills, etc. He had crazy debts, despite earning a really good wage. What pushed things over the edge was him using my debit card without my permission and taking money out of my account! I think that it is always best to be on the same wavelength about money overall. My husband — *not* the same guy — is like me — very good with money — and so there are no issues at all. It is always challenging when one of you treats money like it's growing on trees."
2. Sarah, 30
"I moved across the country with my partner after college and started off with a pretty generous nest egg from my parents. I found a few jobs and cobbled together about 60 hours a week (mostly minimum wage stuff that wasn't related to my degree) and covered my partner's portion of the rent while they were looking for work. But after eight months (they'd stopped even looking after four), the nest egg was gone and my partner owed me nearly 6K in rent, groceries, gas money, all sorts of stuff. There were some mental health issues going on, too, so I know it wasn't really their fault, but I really just couldn't keep carrying them. I still feel guilty about it — for breaking it off with them and for using my parent's money to support them.
It's really affected how I talk about money in relationships since. My mom always taught me to keep my own bank account and savings no matter what my relationship status, and I'm very grateful I've kept to that advice. I think it's important for women especially to maintain their own bank accounts, savings, 401(k)s, etc., and I could never be with someone who wanted to combine everything forever. It's not romantic to me. I'm a big fan of yours, mine, and ours style systems where each person puts in for monthly shared expenses, but still has their own funds for whatever they want. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we opened a joint account just for wedding expenses (and only that!). I think it's better to make a plan and take it on together than to have it unbalanced and build resentment."
3. Katie, 25
"My ex never made financially responsible decisions and was heading back to school for a second degree, which certainly contributed to me breaking up with him. I have a career and am financially self-sufficient, so seeing him — a nearly 30-year-old man (I was 23) — make repeated mistakes in that regard was a huge turn-off (among other things, of course). I've never been in debt, and he was accumulating more and more. Buying tickets to Coachella, going on trips (like Hawaii, which I had to spot him cash for), and buying new surfboards were typical habits, along with a tendency to lose or break his phone, which would set him back another couple hundred dollars here and there. He was constantly having to ask his dad, and even friends, for help with money. It was a lot of seemingly little things that showcased a lack of maturity that I wasn't interested in being a part of any longer."
4. Elaine, 32
"I think when someone's fiscally irresponsible in one area of their life, they are in several. You may not know it immediately, but when it comes out, watch out! An ex of mine had 'some' credit card debt. OK, NBD. But then I found out that was one of many of his financial issues. He talked about us getting married, but how when he couldn't even balance a checkbook (if he even had one!)?!"
5. Carrie, 28
"I had to end things with the love of my life over money. We even tried to see a debt counselor multiple times, and he pretended to be on board. But a week or so later, his bad money habits would come back — like getting way too much take-out when he knew we could only afford to once a week (I had us saving the rest), or 'borrowing' my credit card 'just this once' for some 'emergency' — some bill he forgot to pay. I want a boyfriend who's a partner, not one who I have to teach how to budget, you know?"
6. Jenna, 29
"About a year into dating this guy, I thought everything was going great. We were compatible in every way, including financially (we were usually modest spenders, but would splurge now and then or skimp now and then if we were saving up for a long weekend getaway). But around that one-year mark, he wanted to stay in all the time, i.e., not go on any dates that would cost money. I get doing that sometimes, but all the time?! I knew something was up! It turned out he'd been married before (news to me!) and still paid his ex alimony (again, news to me!). He'd also been demoted at work, which meant his salary was less, but he'd been too embarrassed to tell me. The work demotion omission, I could have gotten past. But the ex-wife and still paying her?! No thanks!"
7. Ali, 31
"I ended a few-years-long relationship over money… because my ex was the cheapest guy on the planet! I don't mean in a frugal way, but in an 'I just bought you a $2 bag of cough drops; when can you pay me back?' sort of way! It was unreal! Finally, I had enough. I mean, can you imagine living like that forever?! The kicker? I am the most generous person ever! I would never ask for him (or anyone!) to reimburse me for $2 cough drops or whatever other trivial things came up. Now when I go on dates, I really pay attention to how the guy acts regarding money. Sure, he may spend a lot on the first date, but you have to watch his behavior over the first few dates to gauge his attitude toward money (every little thing!)."
As you can see, all kinds of money matters can impact a romantic relationship. "Although money is just a tool, it is a tool that holds a lot of power," Elmquist says. "In a relationship, sharing money requires a high level of trust between two people. It also demands transparency and vulnerability, which opens us up to the possibility of being hurt." So what is someone to do?
Consumer Finance Expert Andrea Woroch, working on behalf of Marcus by Goldman Sachs, has some ideas on how to be open about money in your romantic relationship, before things take a turn in the wrong direction. "Set a money date once a month or quarter to review your budget, savings goals, monthly bills, and investments," Woroch tells Bustle. "Make any adjustments as needed based on lifestyle and new life circumstances, like having a baby or buying a house. This is also a good time to bring up money issues that have been bothering you, like if your partner spent too much on entertainment or clothing this past month. Instead of blowing up in the heat of the moment, setting aside time can alleviate tension."
OK, a money date — sounds simple enough, right? I have a feeling broaching the topic of the money date with the person you're dating may feel more challenging than the actual money date itself, but there's only one way to find out: schedule it!