Can cash-strapped couples still thrive?

Share This Post

Financial stress can certainly make a mess of romantic relationships. Just look at 2011 data from Relationships Australia that found it to be the number one cause of breakups.

Thanks to corona, the fragile economy and decimated bank balances won’t be doing financially affected couples any good, at least in some cases that is.

In other cases, research suggests that financial hardship might in fact strengthen relationships. But how?

Cha-ching! The power of “relationship maintenance behaviours”

University of Arizona doctoral student Ashley LeBaron has researched the impact of financial stress on married and unmarried couples from low-, middle- and upper-classes.

Her two co-authored studies, published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues and conducted before the pandemic, showed that when the financial road was rocky, the strongest couples were those who received financial support from family or friends and practised daily “relationship maintenance behaviours”.

As the term suggests, these behaviours, according to Ms LeBaron, are “actions which show love, respect, and affection for your partner”.

Examples, she says, include:

  • physical affection, such as cuddling, kissing and sex
  • spending time together, for example, going on a date
  • verbal affection, such as telling your partner you love them, asking about their day and actively listening or thanking them for a specific reason
  • doing tasks together, such as cooking 
  • completing a chore your partner usually does but dislikes.

Thanks to their findings, Ms LeBaron and her team reported that “it is possible for couples to thrive not just in spite of financial stressors but even because of them”.

Of course, given that no two couples are the same and money problems aren’t a ‘walk in the park’, there were exceptions and variations. (Not all couples have the financial generosity of family or friends, either.)

“In addition to those two things that seem to help all couples, we saw differences in what helped middle- to higher-income, married couples versus what helped lower-income, unmarried couples,” says Ms LeBaron.

Factors that help cash-strapped couples

Middle- to higher-income, married couples

  • Daily relationship maintenance behaviours.
  • Financial support from family/friends.
  • Relationship support from family and friends.
  • Viewing the marriage as sacred.
  • Being on the same page about financial problems.

Lower income, unmarried couples

  • Daily relationship maintenance behaviours.
  • Financial support from family/friends.
  • Health insurance.
  • Having children with only the one partner.
  • Minimising the number of financial stressors experienced.
  • A support network.
  • A positive view of the relationship

“One of the takeaways for policymakers or therapists is that it really depends on the context of the couple you’re trying to help, because something that works for one couple might not work for the other one,” said Ms LeBaron in a statement.

However, given that relationship maintenance behaviours were a positive force across both studies, it might be worth cashing in on them when times are tough.

Afterall, says Ms LeBaron: “Relationships don’t run great on their own – they require selfless effort … [but] during times of financial strain, it’s all too easy for our time, attention, and effort to be focused on finances and just getting by.”

“Sometimes,” she adds “this is all we can do. But for the sake of our relationships, it’s so important to intentionally also make time, attention, and effort for each other and the relationship. It’s the little things, compounded over time, that can make the biggest difference.”

Wealthness Pty Ltd ABN 13 231 248 112  [t/a Better Financial Planning Australia]  is a Corporate Authorised Representative of Infocus Securities Australia Pty Ltd ABN 47 097 797 049 AFSL No. 236523. It is important to be aware that Better Financial Planning Australia is not authorised by Infocus to provide advice relating to credit services or property advice. Infocus is not responsible for any advice outside of the scope of this authorisation and should you wish to act on any of this general information, please first seek professional financial advice.

Wealthness Pty Ltd t/as Better Financial Planning Australia will endeavour to update the website as needed. However, information can change without notice and Wealthness Pty Ltd t/as Better Financial Planning Australia does not guarantee the accuracy of information on the website, including information provided by third parties, at any time.

This information is of a general nature only and neither represents nor is intended to be specific advice on any particular matter. Infocus Securities Australia Pty Ltd strongly suggests that no person should act specifically on the basis of the information contained herein but should seek appropriate professional advice based upon their own personal circumstances. Although we consider the sources for this material reliable, no warranty is given and no liability is accepted for any statement or opinion or for any error or omission.

Wealthness Pty Ltd t/as Better Financial Planning Australia does not give any warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of information which is contained in this website. Except insofar as any liability under statute cannot be excluded, Wealthness Pty Ltd t/as Better Financial Planning Australia and its employees do not accept any liability for any error or omission on this website or for any resulting loss or damage suffered by the recipient or any other person.

Wealthness Pty Ltd (ACN 613 313 250) [t/a Better Financial Planning Australia] Corporate Authorised Representative of Infocus Securities Australia Pty Ltd ABN 47 097 797 049 AFSL Licence No. 236523.

Source: HealthLogix

More To Explore

Teaching kids about money

Start early to get your kids on track for the future Raising your kids to be smart with money gives them vital life skills. As

Banking and credit scams

How to spot a scam and protect yourself against scammers If someone asks you to verify or give your personal details or offers you a


Our Podcast ‘Sharing More Than The Sheets’ is designed to help Australians like you, DO BETTER, BE BETTER and FEEL BETTER with your finances.