Written by Meg Walters

Money can be one of the thorniest issues in long-term relationships. Here’s how the concept of financial compatibility can help.

Relationships have an annoying tendency to get trickier over time. After the whole falling in love part – the heady first dates, the gazing into each other’s eyes, the late nights talking – relationships often hit a few bumpy patches. You might bicker about decor or disagree about the chores. Chances are, at least one of your recurring arguments revolves around money.

According to one 2022 study from Royal London, money is the number one issue couples tend to butt heads over. But while arguments about money are incredibly common in romantic relationships, a lot of us don’t fully understand why money is always such a big issue. Of course, having more of it tends to make life easier – but it turns out, the lack of money isn’t always the source of the problem.

This brings us to the concept of ‘financial compatibility’. As Theresa E DiDonato explained in a recent piece for Psychology Today, financial compatibility is actually a pretty complex idea that spans across all sorts of money issues – and understanding it can help us to understand our partners better, too.

What is ‘financial compatibility’, anyway?

Upon hearing the phrase ‘financial compatibility’, you might assume that it refers simply to earning a similar amount of money as your partner. After all, surely two people who make roughly the same amount of money ought to have fewer arguments? Well, it’s actually a little more complicated than that.

Instead, financial compatibility is all about our personal relationship to money. “When romantic partners intertwine their lives, their money choices become interdependent as well,” writes DiDonato. 

As she goes on to explain, our financial decisions are actually very personal – when we pair up with a partner, we usually have to make these decisions alongside them. “Whereas much of our true financial story is obscured to the public, romantic partners have an upfront view, and they may or may not agree with each other’s approach to money,” writes DiDonato. “When couples struggle to find financial footing in the relationship sense – ie compatibility and comfort – their relationship health can suffer.”

Financial compatibility is about working out your differing approaches to spending and saving

Why financial compatibility is so important in relationships

When we constantly disagree with how our partner likes to spend (or save) their money, tensions naturally arise. According to DiDonato, we are more likely to argue with partners who have different habits and financial approaches to our own.

Citing a 2011 study, she writes, “On the surface, savers and spenders seem like a complementary match, an arrangement that would help everyone out. Indeed, it tends to be the ‘tightwads’ (who spend less than they ideally want) and the ‘spendthrifts’ (who spend more than they ideally want) who are regularly marrying each other.” However, apparently, these pairings lead to tension and disagreement about money.

According to DiDonato, working out how you both navigate important financial decisions, such as those listed below, can help to reduce arguments:

  • Taking out loans or mortgages
  • Holidays and gym memberships
  • Education and childcare costs

After all, a lot of our decisions actually hinge around whether or not we’re inclined to spend our cash. Deciding whether to stay at the pub for another drink, whether to turn the heating on when it’s chilly, or even whether to take the bus or walk – it’s easy to see how this list of potential disagreement-starters can go on and on.

“Financial compatibility is so important because it impacts you on a daily basis,” says Jess Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at So Syncd. “Disagreements about money usually come from a place of fear, which in itself means that strong emotions are involved. For example, frugality might stem from concern about whether you’ll be able to afford basic items such as food in the long run.”

Improving your financial compatibility

Luckily, financial incompatibility doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your relationship. With a conscious, compromising approach, it’s possible to improve your financial compatibility and make decisions that both you and your partner find acceptable.

1. Communication

“If you’re a couple looking to build a good dynamic between you in terms of your finances, you need to openly communicate and be prepared to accept your differences,” says Alderson. Communication is key because if someone understands the thought processes that lead to your actions, they’re more likely to be able to empathise with you, and vice versa. It’s much harder, and even impossible in some situations, to find a compromise without honest communication.

2. Accept your differences 

“Accepting your differences is essential for a harmonious daily life together,” she goes on. “If you feel annoyed each time your partner’s spending habits are unaligned with your own, you’ll become resentful.” She adds, “Of course, if you think that you’ll never be able to accept your partner’s spending habits, you might need to consider breaking up.”

3. Make clear compromises

Decide in advance how you plan on spending and saving in the future as a couple. This way, when potential arguments arise, you’ll be able to look back on the decisions you made in the past and reach a compromise without getting into yet another argument.

Images: Getty

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