Money has always felt like a bit of a taboo topic, and even though the landscape is changing when it comes to both businesses and individuals being more open about finances, the subject can often still feel rather divisive.
The search term money and relationships has seen a 560% rise in searches in the last month, and it's hardly surprising after a difficult financial year for many of us, as well as huge amounts of pressure on our relationships due to months of lockdown.
It can feel difficult to broach the subject even when you've been with your partner for years, and so it probably comes as no surprise that money-related conflicts are frequently cited as a reason for divorce.
Money and stress very often go hand in hand, whether it's because of an overextended budget, an unexpected financial emergency, or even the discovery of your spouse's secret credit card. And financial issues don't discriminate — they can unravel marriages between wealthy couples and those in major debt alike.
So, we called in the experts and spoke to relationship therapist, Zoe Williams from GearHungry about the most common relationship money dilemmas with tips on how to navigate them.
You are in debt
‘Intimacy is the foundation of trust’, states Williams. ‘The word intimacy often invokes thoughts of sexual activity; however, the act of intimacy begins before sex. Developing a relationship where a person shows themselves in a personal light, whether that be sexually, emotionally or sharing personal information, works towards intimacy. In essence, if you wish to create an intimate relationship with your partner, and you feel that information you are holding within you (that you want to share, but are fearful to share), is hindering that, this will impact your emotional relationship. Asses where you are in a relationship. If it is new, establish how much time needs to pass before you divulge your financial information.’
‘Research shows that 1 in 7 people in the UK admit to hiding debt from their partner. Those that find are experiencing debt often feel that there is a stigma surrounding it and fear being judged. As a result, there can be an overall feeling of embarrassment that they want to sheild from their partner. ‘In my experience, I find that those who keep debt from their partner adopt a, ‘I will mention it tomorrow’, mentality’, says Williams. ‘As time moves on and the conversation still has not been initiated, fuel is added to the anxiety that surrounds the subject. Bite the bullet and determine a time and place where you will talk about your debts however, before you do know your facts.’
‘Do you know how much debt have accumulated…to the penny? Many people who feel overwhelmed with their debt often bury their head in the sand somewhat, trying to ignore the facts. This leads the imagination to run wild as the specific number is no longer known to them.
Before you begin talking to your partner, get your facts together. This will ensure that your conversation will be as meaningful and productive as possible’.
‘If the current climate has taught us anything, it’s how our environment can impact our thought processes and the way we communicate. Create the ‘right’ setting for your conversation. Ensure that you are BOTH comfortable and that you have enough time to talk. Just as you would for a workplace meeting, create a loose agenda. As humans, we love structure and the unknown can intimidate us. Structure creates clarity that can aid in working towards our end goals’.
Your partner is in debt
There are several factors contribute to a person suspecting that their partner may be in debt. Often, it is the result of them receiving numerous phone calls from anonymous numbers, inconspicuous letters and being generally cagey around the subject of money. ‘Odd phone calls and cagey communication holds a direct relation to romantic infidelity’, states Williams. For this reason, it can be hurtful to both parties. Financial infidelity can hurt a relationship, however, so can falsely suspecting it.’
‘Communication is key. If you feel that your partner may be in debt, avoid harsh accusations that will cause a person to be defensive. Instead, buffer the question. Voice that debt can be commonplace, can occur in any person and does not favour some over others. It may sound tripe but create a safe space that acknowledges that you are a team.’
‘It is important to remember that a partner who is concealing their debt rarely does it maliciously. They are often embarrassed and fearful of being judged. However, if your partner has been concealing debt, it is vital that you voice, with the reasons why, you are hurt by the situation. This can lead to a stronger relationship and turn a negative into a positive’.
You are paying for everything
‘The number of purchases accumulated doesn’t equate to how committed a person is within a relationship’, says Williams. ‘Relationships can get caught up in the loop of - purchases spark joy, joy brings love, love fuels commitment, purchases are a must. Stop the loop. Ultimately, what a person deems fair and respectful fuels joy, love and commitment.’
‘At the root of paying for everything is choice. Often, I hear couples stating that they do not mind paying for most things as they understand the financial situation of each other as individuals and gladly pay for most things. However, when the choice is removed, it is a problem. Ask yourself the following:
Do you feel guilty if you do not pay?
Do you feel that you cannot question finances?
Does the thought of voicing concerns that you are paying for most things spark anxiety?
Do you feel that talking about financial contributions will lead to confrontation?
‘Financial abuse is gaining more traction in the media. Just as physical and emotional abuse is very much ‘real’, so is financial abuse. Asses the situation and if you need help doing so, contact your local charities who are on hand to help – without judgment’.
One of you makes more money
A lot can emotionally ride on the feeling of financial equality within a relationship. The person who is the lesser earner can feel somewhat inferior to their partner and concerned that they are holding the other back in the types of activities they partake in or places that they visit. ‘When it comes to the subject of money in relationships, people often talk on spending it rather than earning.
As a result, negative connotations are often made. ‘Initially, people tend to believe that it is the differing incomes that cause unease however, often it is the feeling of unfairness with regards to what the other one can contribute. Open the conversational floor to what both parties can give to the relationship – they do not have to be financial. For instance, conducting tasks that contribute to the smooth running of day-to-day life can be worth their weight in gold. Above all, remember conversation around finances is never finished instead, it is an ongoing discussion that is frequently re-evaluated.’
You are saving, they are not
A person who is not saving money whilst their spouse is may feel that it is solely their financial circumstance that envelopes their spouse’s frustration. According to Williams, this is not the case. ‘People rarely save for the sake of it. There is usually an underlying reason, whether it is to buy a property in the future, a new car or to fall back on if things do not work out. If one a person is saving and is exasperated that their partner is not, their upset usually stems from feeling that they do not share the same goals. I.e. I am saving for a house, you are not. Therefore, you must not want to buy a house with me.
‘If you are saving and your partner is not, instead of leading the subject matter with the literal action of saving, start with the reason you are saving. People are often visual and once they envision a goal, they are more likely act towards it. Discuss if there are any roadblocks towards saving and start with small goals. Stating that you want to save 10000’s of pounds can be intimidating. Start with reachable targets that you can both see easy return on’.
You don't want a joint account
‘What is mine is yours’, ‘is possibly the cliched relationship statement that I disagree with the most’, says Williams. ‘Of course, every relationship formula is prescriptive however, I am a huge advocate of choice. Relationships can be elongated past their sell by date as a result of ‘admin’.
You will find that the happiest relationships are those where both parties can leave whenever they want to, and they would not be fully tied to the person as some of their independence remains. If you do not want a joint account, explain that this is not a reflection on your partner, but rather an act where you like to keep some of yourself for yourself as an individual.
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