The Influence of a Financial Management Course on Couples' Relationship Quality

Article excerpt

This mixed-methods study investigated the influence of a financial management course on couples' relationship quality. Based on family stress theory, we hypothesized that couples who attended the course would report an improvement in their relationship quality, and that greater implementation of the financial management practices recommended in the course would be related to an increase in relationship quality, accounting for time living together and income. The data from 32 couples supported our hypotheses and revealed that couples' relationship quality improved during the course. Greater implementation of financial management practices was found to be associated with improvement in relationship quality. Participants identified improved communication as the primary reason for improved relationship quality.

Key Words: couple and family therapy, couple communication, family stress theory, financial management course, relationship quality


Couples who have conflict over money often report lower relationship quality. Research has linked couple financial strain to increased emotional distress for both the husband and the wife (Gudmundson, Beutler, Israelsen, McCoy, & Hill, 2007). Other research has found that financial factors predicted 15% of marital satisfaction, while couples' perceived magnitude of financial problems had an inverse relationship with relationship quality (Kerkmann, Lee, Lown, & Allgood, 2000). Further, high financial satisfaction has been shown to be strongly associated with marital quality (Grable, Britt, & Cantrell, 2007) and completely paying offconsumer debt appears to be positively related to marital satisfaction (Dew, 2008).

Couples who are experiencing difficulty managing their personal finances may choose to attend a financial management course. Some research indicates that the crux of much couple conflict over money was a lack of communication (Klein, 1998; Olson, DeFrain, & Skogrand, 2007; Pahl, 1989; Zagorsky, 2003). Thus, participating in a financial management course may prove helpful for some couples because it provides a framework for systematically learning about and discussing financial topics. Further, couples who control their finances through budgeting, saving, and record keeping appear to be less likely to argue about money (Lawrence, Thomasson, Wozniak, & Prawitz, 1993). In a strengths-based, qualitative study of financial management practices of couples with great marriages, couples reported having a high degree of trust, good communication about finances, and little or no debt (Skogrand, Johnson, Horrocks, & DeFrain, 2011). The purpose of the present study was to investigate the influence of attending a financial management course on couples' relationship quality.

Review of Literature

Conger's family stress theory describes the process whereby financial strain affects relationship quality (Conger et al., 1990; Conger, Reuter, & Elder, 1999). When couples experience economic stress, they tend to increase their hostility, while reducing their warmth and supportive behaviors toward each other. The increased hostility and reduced warmth and support can reduce couples' relationship quality. Papp and her associates (2009) used family stress theory to examine the role of money as a topic of relationship conflict and noted that the model did not sufficiently explain why conflict continues to occur over money when it is not scarce.

A study of 1,010 newlywed couples found that debt, particularly auto loan debt and credit card debt, was associated with lower marital satisfaction and was the most problematic difficulty that they encountered in the first months of their marriage (Skogrand, Schramm, Marshall, & Lee, 2005). Financial strain can also affect couples' feelings of validation, power, freedom, respect, happiness, and security within a relationship (Shapiro, 2007; Washburn & Christensen, 2008). Length of relationship has been found to influence couples' disagreements about money, with arguments over finances decreasing as length of relationship increases (Lawrence et al. …