Are money worries impacting your relationship? Whether you’re a family with a household budget to balance, co-habiting or in the early throes of romance, money can be a contentious topic between partners.
“The rise in cost of living and the financial pressures that come with it will inevitably test people’s relationships, whether or not they have differing views on handling money,” says renowned therapist and bestselling author Marisa Peer.
“Money is the number one reason couples fight, so any additional problems that add to existing stress can exacerbate this – and mean taking things out on those closest to them.
“For couples who are polar opposites when it comes to money, it could result in a serious strain on things if they don’t learn how to ring-fence problems, allowing it to cloud every aspect of their lives together,” Peer adds.
Here are some expert tips…
According to Jeremy Helm, financial analyst for Modern World Business Solutions, issues in relationships relating to finances “almost always” come down to “a lack of communication and not confronting the issue”.
Not everyone grows up having money conversations and it can feel like awkward or emotional territory – but it’s important to build the habit.
“When either party is left in the dark on incomings or outgoings, or one party bottles up all the financial troubles, it can be hard for the other to truly understand the situation they’re in,” says Helm.
“While this might make them feel temporarily better, not having to discuss the matter, it will play havoc with their emotional state and won’t be good for their mental wellbeing.”
Peer says: “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about money. However, it’s vital to establish financial boundaries as a couple and set aside a regular time to review spending, incomes vs savings, and forthcoming expenses.
It sounds tedious, but going through those bank statements and bills will alleviate stress and can actually be a bonding experience.”
How to have these conversations without things escalating? Dr. Elena Touroni, the co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says: “Avoid any blaming language, like, ‘You spend too much”, or words like ‘always’ and ‘never’, which tend to be triggering and unhelpful.
“Criticism and blame are two ways of being in a relationship that can have a very damaging effect,” she adds. “Focus on using ‘I’ statements where you can, like: ‘I feel worried about how much money we’re spending and I’d like us to talk about it’.”
2. Don’t keep secrets
Peer’s next advice? “Don’t keep secrets about money worries or spending from each other. Honesty is always the best policy, so if there is something bothering one of you, talk to your partner immediately, and look at ways of cutting corners,” she says.
“Agree what are luxuries, and what is a must-have. It’s also worth discussing the worst-case scenario, such as what you would do if you lost your house – realising that there is a way to deal with all your fears will stop them keeping you awake at night.”
Helm says debts and how to deal with upcoming costs are another thing people may want to hide from their partners – because “they don’t want to look at their finances and try to work out how they’re going to pay for all their costs, therefore they will bury it. But this often leads to them expressing frustration or anger elsewhere,” he notes.
“I’d recommend facing your demons; sitting down, and working out all of your income and finances available, work out exactly what needs to be paid and by what date. Once you have got your head around the costs, a lot of the stress will lift.”
3. Share the load
Peer thinks “most arguments over spending occur because one person is given the responsibility of managing the household finances.
This can lead to misunderstandings, lack of trust, and also feeling like a burden to the one in charge. It’s much better to work through everything as a couple, so it is transparent and both people take responsibility.
“This will also mean couples think about their spending from a joint perspective, and given they are both aware of how their finances stand, there is much less likelihood of recriminations or accusatory behaviour.”
Keeping a degree of financial independence is always important – no matter how secure you feel in a relationship, or whether one partner is ‘better’ or more confident with money. But how you handle money jointly is also part of the picture.
“Having a joint bank account and agreeing how much there is to spend on non-essentials each month can also help alleviate arguments,” suggests Peer.
“This enables both individuals to have the freedom to buy something they want, but by sticking to a budget, it means there are no nasty surprises when the next bank statement arrives.”
4. Don’t forget to enjoy life
No matter how tight things get, happy relationships need ongoing TLC – and Touroni says: “Don’t forget to make space for activities that will bring you together and provide you with a sense of fun and wellbeing too. It’s even more important to stay connected through challenging times.”
Peer says: “Coming up with ideas for a date night or a day out on a shoestring budget can actually be a great way for a family or couple to end a regular money discussion on a high note.
Taking a picnic to a park, cooking together, or finding free events being held locally can be as much fun as an activity that costs a fortune.
“In fact, when people look forward to an expensive restaurant or theme park, it can lead to disappointment if it doesn’t match up to their expectations. Simple pleasures often turn out to be the most enjoyable.”