Financial Stress Is Taking A Toll On My Marriage

by Alicia Stein
Originally Published: 
Financially stressed couple sitting together at the table as it is taking a toll on their marriage
JackF / Getty Images

My husband and I had our first child just as the great recession of 2007 hit. Like many Americans, my husband became unemployed. And thanks to the housing bubble that also burst during that time, we saw the value of our newly purchased co-op apartment plummet in worth so that selling it would mean that we would actually owe money to the bank rather than make any kind of profit.

During those difficult years, there was a period of time when had to sign up for public assistance and Medicaid. We went into credit card debt, and had to rely on family help to keep us afloat. It was not a pretty picture, to say the least. I was always quick to count my blessings—health, a roof over our head, and never an empty stomach.

But I’m not going to lie: financial stress fucking blows. It eats at your soul. It makes you feel desperate and alone.

And yes, it can make marriage very, very difficult.

Dealing with finances as a married couple can be stressful enough. It can be prickly and uncomfortable sharing a bank account with someone else, and having to make financial decisions as a team. We all have different priorities in life, and not all of us agree on how much to spend and what to spend it on. For sure, tensions are going to rise when it comes to those kinds of decisions.

But when you actually don’t have enough money to cover your bills—or when you have to mind every penny you spend, cut corners, and prioritize your spending in a very particular way to avoid mounting debt—tackling these kinds of decisions as a couple can get downright ugly.

My husband and I eventually moved out of those years of unemployment and relying on government assistance, credit cards, and extended family to fill in the gaps in our income. My husband got a job, I increased my income, and we finally paid off all our debt a couple years ago. But even though we are currently “getting by,” our financial situation is still very tight. We still live “paycheck to paycheck.” And there is always the fear of one of us losing our jobs again. I have nightmares about that even now. Our family’s finances are a constant stress for me.

The problem is that my husband doesn’t always share that stress. He goes to work, does his best, and comes home at the end of the day, not really thinking about our finances the way I do. In order to pay off our debt and keep to our budget, I downloaded a little app to my phone so I could make sure that we spend just the right amount and never go over our means. I scrutinize all of our purchases. I track them not only via this app, but in my head–in my soul.

My husband—though he doesn’t usually overspend, or purchase unwisely—doesn’t seem to really “get” how much effort it takes to manage the finances of our home. He doesn’t think about future financial planning. He doesn’t think about retirement, having any kind of “nest egg,” or how we might save to purchase a home someday. I asked him to download the budget app I bought and put it on his phone so he could follow along and help me make financial decisions, but that hasn’t happened.

So what I feel most of all is alone. Worried constantly about our financial situation. Worried that we’ll slip into debt again. Worried about our future. And feeling like I don’t have an ally there. Feeling like my partner is just sort of lost in his own little world when it comes to the financial make-up of our family.

And it sucks. It’s awful and painful.

I don’t blame him entirely. I know he thinks about it all, to some extent. But I also know it’s just too stressful for him to really tackle head-on, like I do. I get that. But I also resent it, deeply.

Do I think it’s always going to be this way? I have some hope. Maybe eventually we’ll be wealthy and never have to keep a tight budget or worry about how we’re going to pay for our kids’ camp or college. Maybe someday we’ll be able to take family vacations. Maybe finances just won’t be a cause of worry for me, or him.

But I also know that even if things get marginally better someday, financial stress will always be a part of our lives. And until we figure out a way to manage it better and more cooperatively, it’s just going to suck, and put a constant strain on our marriage. And I hate that.

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