Fights between couples about money are rarely just fights about money. There are so many ways to fight about it — how to spend, how to save, how to merge accounts or split expenses — but most of the time, a disagreement about finances either starts out as or becomes a conflict over something bigger: power, priorities, feeling respected or appreciated, differing views of a shared future. (One 2012 study even found that across income levels, of all the things people tend to fight about in relationships, financial disagreement was the biggest predictor of divorce.) Below, eight women talked to the Cut about the blowouts, recurring arguments, and long-simmering tensions they have with their significant other over finances — and all the other uncomfortable issues that these fights dragged to the surface.
“We put equal money into our joint account and savings, and then what’s left is our own money to spend as we wish. But that agreement is from before we had children, and now that we have them, it’s a pressure point. I’ve been on leave and haven’t been getting paid — I’ve been home looking after the baby — so my husband has been putting in more money into both the joint account and savings, and now he feels like he’s got more say over the money. A couple weeks ago, he came home and said, Why have we not got a lot of money in the joint account? And as soon as he said that, I jumped to, You’re accusing me of spending all the money. So I felt like I had to give him a rundown: I went supermarket shopping, he needed a new coat and new shoes.
And we argue over our own money, too. I just went back to work, and now that I’m earning again I’m buying new clothes. I feel I need a certain amount each month, and his view is I need half that. Another bone of contention: Where does the baby’s stuff come from? Does it come from my account? Does it come from the joint account? Right now, it’s predominantly based on what I can and can’t be bothered to have a debate about. Some things I buy because the baby needs them, and some things are like, he needs this really cute T-shirt and I want to be able to buy it. I also take responsibility for family birthdays and my child’s activities, so if I have personal grooming expenses, too, is it any of his business how much I spend and on what? It’s never resolved — I always say let’s talk about it another time, and another time is always triggered by another discussion about money.”
“My husband and I used to fight constantly about money until he switched jobs a few months ago. For the majority of our marriage, I worked as a freelance writer while my spouse had a nine-to-five job. He liked his work, but he was resentful of my work-in-my-yoga-pants life, exacerbated by the fact that I made little money. Every January, I’d swear that I’d bring in more cash that year, but as the months progressed, this revenue never materialized. And my husband would say things like You said that last year or You’ve been saying that since we met. I wouldn’t call it condescension, but I would call it a lack of faith in my abilities — not necessarily my talent, but my ability to earn. And he was very confused about why I couldn’t do this, why I couldn’t somehow bring in more money. Eventually, I began to see myself through my husband’s eyes: a creative person with big dreams but little ability to realize these for profit. It was humiliating. This past May, though, my husband left his job and we started a business together, and his new hustle has given him much more empathy for my struggles.”
“I like to budget, and my partner doesn’t think budgeting matters. He also likes to splurge on the most expensive version of whatever we want or need, where I just want something practical. I don’t need top of the line all the time. Early in our relationship we went to a premarital counselor that did not know us. He told my partner he views things from a place of abundance, whereas I view things from a place of lack. But I think he had it a little bit backward: My partner had an upbringing where he wasn’t able to have a lot of things that he wanted, so now if he has the money for it, he’s going to get what he wants without thinking about long-term ramifications. Whereas I just like planning.
Every once in a while we’ll have a blowup because our spending styles are so wildly different. For example, we had all these upcoming expenses for the spring and summer with new clothes for the kids, and so we decided not to do much for our anniversary. For me, that meant not spending large amounts of money, but he decided he wanted to splurge — he made sure I had nice flowers, and we went out to eat and did a bunch of different things. But he wound up spending $500 on me. When I found out, I felt it was a waste. He felt I was unappreciative, I felt he was irresponsible. We did have a talk about what we wanted for the future, and about how we need to operate as a team and not just be like, We decided this but I’m going to do this instead.”
“While in college, my fiancé and I started to live together. Although he had no job, he said he would pay the rent, and I’d pay for food for us. Later on, I discovered that he took out a $30,000 loan to pay for rent and kept the rest of the money for himself. He used it to buy a camera, car, and weed for himself. I moved out and broke our engagement because I thought it was stupid as fuck to take out a $30,000 loan for rent.”
“I’ve had a recurring fight with my (white male) significant other (I’m a WOC) about my student-loan debt and retirement account. He believes I should be paying off student-loan debt instead of saving for retirement. I’m paying off debt, of course, and I try to throw some extra funds at it when I can. But saving is so much easier — I automatically deduct savings from my paycheck. He paid off his debt pretty quickly by not saving any money for retirement, but also, he had way less debt than I have. His parents paid for a very expensive undergrad degree and all his debt came from voluntary loans he took out in an MA program he dropped out of. I have a Masters that I took out loans for pretty much in its entirety. I had very little help.
The disagreement started about a year into our relationship, and peaked last year. He didn’t know that, for a year, I had been on an income-based plan and wasn’t paying enough — so much so that the amount actually increased. I went to my loan holder one day and looked at my balance, and was like, how is it that I left school two years ago but have $2,000 more in debt than when I started? I mentioned this and he got kind of worked up about it, which led to my boyfriend getting worked up about it. He was like, This is what I’ve been telling you, you’ve been saving this money when you should have been putting it towards loans. And that sort of threw me over the edge: You always think you’re so right, I’m going to correct it, this isn’t about the money so much as you thinking you know the right way to do things. It’s better now because I’m on a 10-year plan and can see the debt being paid down every month, and after that conversation, he knows he can’t press me. I think he came to the realization that it’s not helping me pay down my debt, nor is it helping our relationship.”
“My ex-husband and I had huge fights about money because we both had significant anxiety over it, but he wouldn’t commit to being transparent, so we would squabble about what to save for and how much to save. He made much more than I did, and he resented that I couldn’t save as much as he did. I wanted to contribute my fair share, but that translated into us never buying groceries or paying for household things out of a joint account. We bought our own groceries. When I look back, it feels super weird, but I felt very strongly about being independent despite being broke.
He insisted he was great at managing money, and I wasn’t great at it, but he would never agree to join forces with me so we could tackle the problem together — it was always my problem. We would have these moments where all of a sudden he had an expectation that I would be accountable to him for money I was making or spending, but he would never be accountable to me. He would just be condescending about my money-managing skills. It was obviously a symptom of a larger issue — a lack of openness and mutual respect. I haven’t had any serious relationships since my divorce, but now when I’m dating, I tend to be more like, Hey, I can’t swing this this week. I’m much more up front.”
“This is so dumb, but it was about bitcoin. He had dabbled in bitcoin a bit early on, and then when it started to spike, he started feeling like he was missing out on this huge opportunity. We talked about it and decided that there was a certain amount he could do whatever he wanted with, and if what he wanted was to buy bitcoin, fine. But he got increasingly frustrated with the actual mechanics of buying and selling cryptocurrency, used more money than the amount we had agreed on, and was just generally working himself into a froth about it. I got angry about the fact that he was working himself up about something so dumb, in addition to the fact that he had gone over our agreed upon limit, and became very frustrated that I had to hear about it all of the time. This probably went on, off and on, for about four months.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s really active fighting, but there’s a sort of tension because we’re in a long-distance relationship. He lives in Switzerland, and I live in Florida. So there’s a lot of travel, and that’s something that was not a part of my life before — I’m a freelance writer and a teacher, so I live pretty simply. I’m certainly someone that likes to travel, but I’d always plan well in advance and budget around it.
He travels for his company, and I make significantly less money, so it’s tricky because I assumed he’d pay for a lot of the travel. He always pays for hotels, but there’s this weird resistance to buying my plane tickets. I notice it in semi-subtle ways, like he’ll ask me to change my ticket to meet him somewhere and he’ll ask me to pay for the change. It’s a struggle because it puts me in a position of having to reiterate that I don’t make as much money as he does. It’s sort of like he wants me to be able to live the same lifestyle as he does, and he’s hinted at that, like, Do you see your career changing?, and I don’t. We finagle things with the plane tickets, but it’s hard because I see him buy things that are more expensive than a ticket, like clothes or a watch. So it’s hard for me to see that and not make a value judgment about what’s important to him.”