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Couples’ Biggest Money Hangups and How a Financial Therapist Can Help

Aja Evans April 19, 2023

couple at financial therapist
Updated on: August 4, 2023

One in five couples say money is their biggest relationship challenge, and as a financial therapist, I see how that statistic plays out in real life.1 My practice, Aja Evans Counseling, focuses on helping people navigate the place where money and feelings intersect—how their generational money narratives and financial trauma impact their financial behaviors and relationships.

My path to financial therapy began when I faced my own money challenges as a young mental health counselor living in New York City. I was getting paid more than I ever had before, so I felt like I should be able to afford the lifestyle I wanted to lead. The fact that it was a struggle was a source of shame, but also curiosity. It made me realize that many mental health professionals, including myself, had not been trained in the connection between money and emotions. Building my knowledge of financial therapy has added a new dimension to my work with clients.

I’ve learned over the years that there are common challenges among couples that can become roadblocks in their journey to their financial goals. The first step in overcoming them is to recognize them. See if any of these reflect a situation happening in your practice.

Challenge #1: Oversaving

One common conflict I see in couples is when one partner feels really comfortable with a large sum of money in the bank, and the other person disagrees about having that much money sitting in a savings account. That’s where my work comes in. I want to know where that is coming from, and what money narratives or potential traumatic experiences involving money led to that need.

I work with many first-generation wealth builders who are making great money, but they didn’t grow up with money. This can lead to a compulsion to save. Many times, when you have grown up in an environment where there wasn’t extra, it can be really difficult to move past and move out of scarcity. The work starts with realizing that each partner in the relationship has something they are looking for in terms of security.

Challenge #2: Overspending

Coming from a place of scarcity can also lead to the reverse situation for a first-generation wealth builder. The narrative might become, “I didn’t have some of the nicer things I wanted growing up. I worked really hard to get here, and it’s important to get some of these nicer things for myself.” That can lead to overspending.

If the money being overspent is coming from a joint account, and the other partner is a saver, that can lead to conflict. To solve that, there might be a number the couple decides on—“We’re OK spending up to this amount of money without having a conversation, otherwise check first.”

Challenge #3: Conflicting Styles

Sometimes I discover that a couple is aligned on financial priorities, but how they want to pursue those goals is very different. A couple preparing to buy a home is one example. One partner might say, “We’re going to save $2,000 a month to get to this point where in 30 months, we’re going to have $60,000, and that’s going to help us with our down payment.” The other partner may say, “No, we need to cut as much of our spending as we can to save as much as humanly possible to get to this goal sooner.” In this situation, we refocus on how each partner can get their needs met and how we can move forward to the goal.

Challenge #4: Lack of Communication

Finally, whether you did not grow up with very much money or you grew up in a wealthy family, talking about money can be uncomfortable. That discomfort leads to communication issues, and in the extreme, it can lead to financial infidelity. Part of my work is in helping a couple navigate around that discomfort to have open money discussions.

Working Toward a Solution

If you see a pattern with a client hitting the same money roadblocks over and over again, that’s usually a sign something deeper is at the root of their issues. It’s not on you to fix it, but you can identify when it’s interfering with the planning process and have a conversation about finding a solution.

To find a financial therapist you’re comfortable referring clients to, I recommend using the Financial Therapy Association directory. The professionals who specialize in this work are listed, and you can filter to find someone with experience in a particular issue, such as wealth inequality within a family.

We all have to navigate money in this society, but we don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes to get past challenges, all that’s needed is a safe space to have important conversations about money.

Editor’s note: If you’d like to further explore this topic, read the new Candid Conversations: Couples, Money, and Conflict guide. It includes key insights into promoting harmony among couples in the financial planning process.


1. Fidelity Investments, “2021 Couples & Money Study,” July 2021.

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.

The views and opinions expressed by this blog post guest are solely those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of eMoney Advisor, LLC. eMoney Advisor is not responsible for the content, views or opinions presented by our guest, nor may eMoney Advisor be held liable for any actions taken by you based on the content, views or opinions of the guest.

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About the Author

Aja Evans is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in financial therapy. Armed with eternal optimism and an empathetic approach, she has been in the mental health industry for over a decade. She is on a mission to get more people engaged in living their best life while attuning to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around money. Whether she is seeing clients, writing, or helping companies empower their employees to have more thoughtful conversations, money and emotions will definitely be on the agenda.

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