‘Financial therapy’: Couples counseling with financial twist improves stability, well-being

ATHENS, Ga. — While it certainly sounds like a time saver, the idea of combining couples counseling with financial advice probably sounds pretty odd at first. Don’t rush to judgment, though, according to a new study conducted at the University of Georgia. Researchers say that “financial therapy,” a fairly new form of relationship support that combines the traditional guidance of a marriage counselor with the money savvy of a financial representative, could help couples deal with monetary disagreements and concerns.

“Money is a big thing and ignoring it is impeding satisfaction in relationships,” says Megan Ford, a couples and financial therapist at the University of Georgia, in a release. “Therapists need to work together to solve problems that occur around financial behaviors of couples and learn how to connect to all of their emotions.”

Ford, along with John Grable, an Athletic Association Endowed Professor of Family and Consumer Sciences and a financial planner himself, has been studying the effect of financial therapy on couples for the past decade. The duo have focused on the positive outcomes financial therapy can bring about in couples, but they’ve also investigated just how aware many couples are of how much their finances are impacting their relationship and communication.

Ford and Grable believe that financial therapy can greatly improve a couple’s well-being and financial stability. That is, if both partners take the time to recognize and understand that while financial behaviors may seem solely like matters of the wallet, they also have a profound effect on inter-relationship feelings, beliefs, and trust.

For their most recent set of research on the matter, Ford and Grable worked with six couples of varying ages. Each couple spoke with a financial planner and a family therapist, sharing both their financial goals and how money has played a role in their relationship problems.

Over the course of five weeks, each couple participated in three 30-50 minute sessions in which both partners were asked to vocalize their concerns about money in a non-judgmental manner. After the completion of these sessions, nearly all of the participants said they wanted to continue speaking openly about their financial behaviors. Furthermore, many said the sessions helped them realize they must communicate with their partner better, and would at least consider visiting a financial planner.

“One woman was close to tears listening to her husband explain an early memory in their relationship about money that she didn’t understand at the time,” Grable says. “The story helped explain his odd behavior that she always thought of as just being mean. They left clearly closer emotionally and financially feeling more powerful.”

The research team say that while it is common knowledge that money leads to relationship issues in many partnerships, there just isn’t much scientific research that has been performed on the topic.

“The No. 1 reason for arguments is often money,” Ford says. “We know it and believe it but there is not a huge body of literature on the topic.”

Grable was also involved in starting the Financial Therapy Association in 2008, which just opened its own certification program in 2019. However, both Ford and Grable say that financial therapy still has a long way to go before it is easily accessible for couples across the United States. For reference, there are currently more than 80,000 certified financial planners and 50,000 family therapists in the United States, but less than 50 certified financial therapists.

At the very least, the research team believe that all family therapists should be familiar with the basics of financial therapy, especially because a traditional financial planner is in no way equipped to deal with the emotional and psychological relationship problems that can stem from money.

“I’m a financial planner; I love money,” Grable says. “But the last thing I want to happen is a couple coming in crying or yelling. I’m uncomfortable with that, it makes me nervous. That’s why we need therapists trained in this area.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Contemporary Family Therapy.