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Love Over Money: Breakups Aren't Due to Money Problems, Survey Finds

GOBankingRates logo GOBankingRates 2/6/2017 Beth Rifkin
USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Couple arguing© Tetra Images/Getty Images USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Couple arguing

Whether you're focused on building wealth, planning for retirement or budgeting for the here and now, it's important to know your deal breakers when it comes to money challenges in your relationship. Ignoring small annoyances, such as a partner who has a penchant for impulse purchases, can fester beneath the surface and eventually cause quite a bit of tension.

But, is it a reason for breaking up with someone you love?

In our 2017 survey, GOBankingRates wanted to find out the real reasons for breaking up among couples. We asked Americans: "Be honest, have you ever ended a relationship because of money?" For those who answered "yes," we wanted to uncover the specific things that end relationships. The survey then asked the following yes or no follow-up questions:

  • Have you ever ended a relationship because your partner did not make enough money?
  • Have you ever ended a relationship because your partner lied about money?
  • Have you ever ended a relationship because your partner put you in debt?

The survey also asked participants to identify their income level.

The following analysis on money and relationships is based on the survey responses. Keep reading to see how money can hurt your relationship.

Overwhelming Majority of People Have Not Ended a Relationship Over Money

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Financial concerns are often the most common cause of intense disagreements among couples. And for some, it's the greatest challenge for romantic partners to solve and could lead to failed relationships. Yet, an astounding 90 percent of respondents say they have never ended a relationship because of money. How could that be?

"People tend to think that money is vulgar so they mask talking about it — even in a breakup," said April Masini, a relationship expert and founder of relationship advice forum AskApril.com. "While the breakup may be caused by one person not working or not contributing to rent, dates or gifts, the romanticized and sanitized reason given for the breakup may be, 'We had different goals in life.'"

Living beyond your means or not making responsible financial choices can interfere with your long-term goals, which can place stress on a relationship. In fact, a 2016 GOBankingRates study found that overspending and poor money habits were the top deal breakers among daters.

However, as life moves forward, money wounds tend to heal.

"As time goes on, and the breakup is less important, healthy people tend to put a positive spin on the breakup," said Masini. "They may wish their ex well and decide that the reason for the breakup was really because one lived life in the moment and the other had a longer-range view of things. Interpretation? One was a spender, the other a saver — one of the biggest reasons for money getting in the way of romance."

Middle-Aged People More Likely to End a Relationship Because of Money

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Your late 40s and early 50s tend to be a time of financial pressure. You might have to foot the bill for your kids' college tuition, you're focusing on saving for retirement or you might be trying to pay down most of your debts. This correlates with the data gathered from respondents in those age groups.

According to our findings, here are some of the things that end relationships among the middle-age demographic:

  • 22% of those ages 45 to 54 (older Gen Xers) have ended a relationship because of money.
  • 16% of those ages 35 to 44 (younger Gen Xers) have ended a relationship because of money.
  • 63% of older Gen Xers and 43% of younger Gen Xers who have ended a relationship have broken up because their partner didn't make enough money and because they lied about money.
  • 75% of older Gen Xers and 43% of younger Gen Xers who have ended a relationship have broken up because their partner put them in debt.

Millennials, on the other hand, were the least likely demographic to end a relationship due to finances. Just 2 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds and 5 percent of those ages 25 to 34 said they have ended a relationship over money.

Money management becomes significantly more important as couples take on a greater amount of financial responsibility. Though both groups might be dealing with student loan debt, for example, the older respondents are also learning how to budget, building up their credit and possibly saving for a down payment on their first house.

"The 35- to 54-year-old group of exes is often looking toward wealth building in a way that millennials aren't and seniors have moved past," said Masini. "This is the time of life when people in these age ranges (35-44 and 45-54) make plans to put kids through college, buy homes, invest money and plan for retirement. It's no surprise that money is more important at these ages than it is to millennials who haven't quite felt the squeeze of years of taxes, aging parents and the expense of children — and divorces."

As financial burdens ease, respondents were more forgiving of their partner's money habits. Only 6 percent of those ages 55 to 64 and 11 percent of seniors who are 65 and older said they have ended a relationship because of money. 

Financial Infidelity Is a Deal Breaker for Both Men and Women

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Whether it's undisclosed spending, a secret bank account or something worse — like a gambling problem — finding out that your partner has been deceitful can be damaging to a relationship. Forty-six percent of men and 43 percent of women who said money has been of the reasons for breaking up with someone also said a partner lying about money was a valid reason for splitting up.

Financial infidelity happens more often than you might think. Almost one-half of adults (42 percent) in a Harris poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education admitted to financial deceit in their relationship. Additionally, 75 percent in the same poll reported that financial deceptions have affected their relationship.

"Financial infidelity is a huge issue in relationships," said Masini. In fact, she said it can be more difficult to move past this kind of infidelity versus sexual and romantic infidelity. "When people cheat financially, they're doing so because they want to spend on something that they don't want their partner to know about because their partner won't approve," she said.

To avoid financial infidelity, stay honest with your significant other — especially when it comes to your money. It's an important key if you want to make your relationship successful

Income Levels Matter in a Relationship

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Of the respondents who disclosed their income levels, those making $75,000 to $149,999 had the highest percentage of people who said they've ended a relationship because of money issues.

Twelve percent of the respondents making $50,000 to $74,999 said money was one of the reasons for breaking up in the past. And, 67 percent of those people also said they've left a relationship because their partner's income level was too low. Sixty percent of those who earn $100,000 to $149,999 did the same.

Large differences in salaries can potentially throw a relationship off balance. The inequality can cause the lower earner to feel like they're not contributing their fair share, while the higher earner feels the stress of carrying the financial burden. Resentment can build for both people, causing the relationship to become fractured.

Similarly, bad money habits that lead to debt could cause even more arguments and an eventual breakup. But, talking with your partner about financial issues can help you avoid becoming one of the few failed relationships that fell apart over money problems.

Methodology: This GOBankingRates.com survey posed the question, "Be honest, have you ever ended a relationship because of money?" to 281 people among all 50 states and Washington, DC.If they answered yes, they were asked the following questions: 1) Have you ever ended a relationship because your partner did not make enough money? 2) Have you ever ended a relationship because your partner lied about money? and 3) Have you ever ended a relationship because your partner put you in debt? All respondents were asked to identify their income levels. Responses were collected through a Survata survey conducted on Jan. 9, 2017. Responses are representative of the U.S. online population. 

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