“In this day and age, you just don’t know” : an examination of how people in romantic relationships use communication to manage financial uncertainty
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While finances are known to be a source of uncertainty for couples (Knobloch, 2008), the specific sources of financial ambiguity and the ways in which they are appraised and negotiated have not been explored. Framed by the lens of Uncertainty Management Theory (UMT; Brashers, 2001), the current study used face-to-face, semi-structured interviews of 40 diverse participants in married or cohabiting relationships to provide new insight into uncertainty management. The investigation uncovered the types of uncertainty experienced by participants (economic, personal, family, communication, and chronic), the ways in which people managed uncertainty (reducing, maintaining, and adapting to it through a variety of practical strategies), and barriers to uncertainty management (information, time management, sociocultural, and communication obstacles), shedding light on why people are (not) successful in managing their finances. Consistent with the tenets of UMT (Brashers, 2001), communication (or lack thereof) was critical to the process of uncertainty management, particularly with respect to reducing and maintaining uncertainty. However, this study uniquely found that collective negotiation of financial uncertainty was particularly salient. In many ways, financial uncertainty management can be conceptualized as a joint enterprise. Just as individuals negotiate uncertainty by seeking information through computer-mediated communication (e.g., the internet), mass media (e.g., magazines), and external interpersonal sources (e.g., financial advisors), this investigation found that people frequently negotiated their uncertainty with their romantic partner through communal coping. This study provides important insight into the ways in which financial uncertainty can influence people's communication, behavior, and relationships and proposes extending the theory to take into account the role that dyads, culture, and individual factors can play in shaping uncertainty management.