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Holding Together in Times of Stress: Intimacy, Financial Stress, and Well-being

Have you ever made a plan for your day, but things kept popping up, leaving you with a larger to-do list at the end of the day than you started with? Or maybe you tried to budget, but then found you do not have enough money at the end of the month to pay the bills? Life does not always go as planned, and sometimes we find ourselves in situations which challenge us physically and emotionally. While stress hurts in the moment, there are also long-term consequences that come from stressors. Stress greatly impacts mental and physical health outcomes for individuals. There are many different types of stress that people experience, with a range of influence.

woman looking at a computer and biting a pencil

Financial stress has been shown to have a large influence on individual and relational well-being. Previous research has connected financial stress with lower levels of physical health and mental health.[1] For example, financial strain may increase physical pain, worsen memory, and increase risk of cardiometabolic diseases. Financial stress takes a toll on marriage as well.[2],[3],[4] However, marriage can play a positive role in other aspects of couples’ lives. Many studies have found that couple with healthy marriages have increased life expectancy, better physical health, and increased mental well-being.

Is it possible that couples with high levels of marital intimacy are able to better handle financial stress? This is the question that Drs. Wickrama, O’Neal, and Klopack investigated.[5] They wanted to study the link between financial stress and overall well-being for married couples. They also tested the role of intimacy (both emotional and sexual) in the association between financial stress and well-being.

man and woman holding hands and walking

304 husbands and wives were surveyed about different aspects of their personal lives and their marriage. Included in this data were measures about financial strain (a measure of financial stress), partners’ intimacy, and health and well-being. For both husbands and wives, financial stress was connected to health and well-being later in adulthood. Specifically, greater financial stress was associated with lower life satisfaction and poorer physical health (measured with BMI). Also, partners who were intimate with each other sexually and emotionally tended to experience lower financial stress and better health and well-being.


1. Recognize the impact of financial stress. While we may hope to always be in control of our finances, this is not guaranteed. Financial stresses are likely to come, and they impact other areas of life. Remaining aware of this allows us to more proactively set in place practices to help manage future stress.

2. Trouble with finances? Find time for your spouse. While financial stress is hard, there are things that can help lessen the burden. One of these is marital intimacy, which allows for higher levels of well-being even when experiencing financial stress. Couples who make time for each other and to strengthen their connection may find they are better able to navigate financial stress that comes up in their life—together.


[1] McEwen, B. S., & Gianaros, P. J. (2010). Central role of the brain in stress and adaptation: Links to socioeconomic status, health, and disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1186, 190–222.

[2] Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., & Martin, M. J. (2010). Family processes, and individual development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 685–704.

[3] Gudmunson, C. G., Beutler, I. F., Israelsen, C. L., McCoy, J. K., & Hill, E. J. (2007). Linking financial strain to marital instability: Examining the roles of emotional distress and marital interaction. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 28(3), 357–376.

[4] Wickrama, K. A., & O’Neal, C. W. (2021). Couple processes of family economic hardship, depressive symptoms, and later-life subjective memory impairment: Moderating role of relationship quality. Aging & Mental Health, 25(9), 1666–1675.

[5] Wickrama, K. A. S., O’Neal, C. W., & Klopack, E. (2022). Midlife financial strain and later-life health and wellbeing of husbands and wives: Linking and moderating roles of couple intimacy trajectories. Family Process, 61(4), 1593-1609.