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Seeing is Perceiving: How Forgiveness and the Perceptions of Partner’s Financial Habits Affect Relationships

Forgiveness is important in every relationship, whether it be romantic or not. However, can being financially forgiving have a positive impact on romantic relationships? This is what Matthew Saxey and Dr. LeBaron-Black’s team set out to study[1].

Partners may have differing financial values, given that everyone differs in life experiences and how they were raised. Although there is a positive association between similar financial values and marital satisfaction, practically all couples are likely to have some differences in financial values. This study set out to examine whether forgiveness would act as a buffer against the negative impact dissimilar financial values might have on relationships.

a couple at sunset


Spenders and savers often marry each other[2]. Unfortunately for those who might have differing financial values, the findings suggested that dissimilar financial values are associated with a less flourishing marriage.

However, when wives reported forgiving their husbands consistently, couples with dissimilar financial values still could have flourishing marriages. This could be because on average, husbands forgive more than their wives do,[3] which their study also found. Thereby, wives’ forgiveness, which is less frequent, might be more impactful for couples with dissimilar financial values. This is to say that couples with dissimilar financial values might also have more financial conflict2, but if wives are forgiving of their husbands—potentially in financial conflict—then the couple can still have a flourishing marriage.

LeBaron-Black was also involved in Heather Kelley’s study on individuals’ thoughts about their partner’s spending and how these thoughts impacted marital wellbeing in the form of marital power, commitment, and marital satisfaction.

Marital Power

One interesting finding to highlight is that perceiving one’s spouse as a spender was associated with the other spouse perceiving their partner as a saver—providing support for previous research2 that suggests the same. This finding may suggest that the way an individual perceives their spouse’s money management style may be just as much, or more, about their perceptions of their own control over their money management.

Following this line of reasoning, perceiving one’s spouse as a saver may be associated with a feeling of their partner being in control of their finances, whereas perceiving one’s spouse as a spender may reflect a feeling of lack of control over one’s finances due to their partner spending a lot of their money. Making joint financial decisions to give both partners equal say in decision making about finances, the authors suggest, would be beneficial.

woman on bed looking at a laptop

Marital Commitment

In their study, marital commitment was defined as having a personal dedication to one’s marriage and spouse. Wives who viewed their husbands as a spender also tended to report lower marital commitment. They also found that wives’ perceptions of their husbands as savers predicted less marital commitment for wives. Furthermore, they found that husbands’ perceptions of their wives as a spender also led to less marital commitment for both husbands and wives.

Marital Satisfaction

The findings regarding marital satisfaction were telling about viewing your spouse as a spender. When husbands viewed their wives as spenders, it predicted less marital satisfaction for themselves and their spouse. Likewise, when wives viewed their husbands as spenders, it predicted less marital satisfaction for themselves and their spouse. In essence, these findings suggest that the way couples view their spouse’s financial habits has implications for how their marriage is going.


Potentially with the help of a therapist, couples can implement the following action items, which are based on these research findings, to improve their marriage.

  • Forgive Your Spouse. Although the previous findings suggest that wives’ forgiveness might help buffer against dissimilar financial values, the findings also showed that both spouses’ forgiveness can positively contribute to a flourishing marriage. In short, wives’ forgiveness of their husbands may be especially salient, but both spouses should forgive each other in financial and non-financial matters to improve their marriage. Indeed, Robert Quillen may be correct in saying that, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers[4].”
  • Understand the Why Behind Your Spouse’s Financial Habits. Fundamentally, it is very important to understand the whys behind your spouse’s financial behavior. That is, discuss together each other’s short-term and long-term financial goals and about why they prefer to spend/save money the way they do. Discussions like this may help spouses to have more empathy for their partner. In these discussions, it can be constructive to both share how the other’s spending habits make you feel and if there might need to be any adjustments for both partners to meet your long-term or short-term financial goals. Spouses may find that they need to compromise in their financial management rather than seek to change their spouse into a spender or saver.
  • Make Important Decisions as a Couple, Rather Than Individually. As a couple, both partners likely are making decisions in different aspects of the couple’s life on an individual basis. However, when it comes to important financial decisions—where to live, where to work, where to save money, where to invest for the future, etc.—couples should make these decisions together. Making important financial decisions together can help foster greater marital equality and an increased understanding of each other’s financial histories and the meanings they place on money. In short, according to LeBaron-Black’s research, any efforts to manage finances jointly—while forgiving when mistakes happen—would be well worth it.


[1]Saxey, M. T., LeBaron-Black, A. B., Yorgason, J. B., & Dew, J. P. (2022). Two good forgivers? Forgiveness as a moderator of the association between similarity of financial values and relationship flourishing. The American Journal of Family Therapy. Advance online publication.

[2]Rick, S. I., Small, D. A., & Finkel, E. J. (2011). Fatal (fiscal) attraction: Spendthrifts and tightwads in marriage. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(2), 228–237.

[3]Miller, A. J., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2010). Sex differences in forgiveness and mental health in recently married couples. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 12–23.

[4]Fincham, F. D. (2019). Forgiveness in marriage. In E. L. Worthington, Jr. & N. G. Wade (Eds.), Handbook of forgiveness (pp. 142–152). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.