Stop arguing, start talking about money!

How do you manage your finances as a couple? Do the two of you argue about money? I've found that if a couple argues about money, they often have issues around sex and control.  

So, who tends to make all the decisions in your relationship?
Who is in charge or in control?
And are your values and beliefs around money so different that you're considering breaking up?

I'm really hoping that I can help you gain some clarity so that you can perhaps have a more fruitful conversation about your financial affairs with your partner.

Communicating about money

Through my experience as a professional couple counsellor, I've found that even the most seemingly 'together' couples can still find it difficult to communicate about money. They may have no trouble talking about any other subject, but avoid talking about their finances until there's some sort of a financial crisis.

Not talking about the state of your finances may not seem much of problem if...

  • Each of your incomes is sufficient to provide financial stability for you as a couple. You've agreed that you can each do what you like, without having to worry about what your partner thinks of your spending
  • Your wealth and/or monthly income is roughly equal at the start of a more formal commitment to each other. Again, you can enjoy your financial independence
  • Both of you have reasonably similar values and beliefs about money - you can simply take it for granted that you think alike. You're also likely to trust your partner's decisions about what the money is spent on
  • Your families have no strong opinions about - or a say in - how you manage your finances

However, all that can change. There may be a slow increase in irritations about your expenditures, or perhaps a sudden change in your circumstances. Either way the result will be that you'll have to deal with money problems in your relationship.

A turn in fortunes
- 10 ways your finances may change

A shift in your circumstances that has an impact on your financial stability can suddenly throw up a whole new set of relationship challenges which you may not have been prepared for.

Here are some examples of the kind of changes you may well face during the life-time of your relationship or marriage. Any of these will have an impact on your household budget:

  1. You're planning to take out a significant loan, such as a mortgage
  2. One of you becomes unemployed or is made redundant
  3. One or both of you retires
  4. One of you becomes a stay-at-home mum or dad
  5. One of you becomes (financially) dependent on the other due to ill-health
  6. One of you stands to inherit a - for you - significant sum/assets
  7. An increase in costs means your money runs out before the end of the month
  8. You're beginning to rob Peter to pay Paul
  9. One of you wants (or needs) to make a large personal purchase requiring joint funds, say to pay for a course, help build a business, to buy a car, etc
  10. One of you suddenly receives a large sum of money, for example an inheritance

These kinds of circumstances can lead to a complete shift in the dynamics of a couple relationship. For example, a partner who loses their own income can suddenly feel very vulnerable.  I've seen the most assertive and eloquent individuals in distress because they had no idea how to talk to their partner about their fears.

Money, relationship problems and advice

Your household budget - and in particular debt - can be a huge source of marital strife. Of course it doesn't matter if you're married or not - if the two of you are in a committed relationship and one of you has a debt that can no longer be serviced, it's likely to cause both of you considerable stress.

A personal debt may be manageable as long as there's enough money in the kitty whilst both of you contribute to the general household pot in an agreed way. However, if your circumstances change and/or you're secretive about your personal financial affairs, there's potential for the two of you to fall out over money.

Therefore there's every reason to learn to talk about money early in your relationship and be able to discuss all aspects of your financial affairs.

If you can have these conversations about your finances regularly, in a non-judgemental and calm manner, you're very likely to be able to come to a suitable arrangement when you hit a rough patch.

It's therefore best to start talking early - when all is well - just to get into the habit and to get to know and understand each other's attitude towards money.

Ducking debts?

If you're in debt now and you're no longer managing to keep up with your payments, please trust me when I say it's not a good idea to stick your head in the sand. I so want you to deal with the problem as soon as you can... I'd hate the idea that your financial problems and the stress that comes with them is going add an unnecessary burden to your relationship.

I really hope that the two of you can work together on sorting it all out. Blaming each other isn't going to resolve the problem. It'll only lead to defensiveness and secrecy, and is just a waste of your precious energy.

So, where do you start?  See part 2: How to Talk About Money, and Financial Infidelity

Money issues in relationships

Financial issues can be really tricky to discuss in a relationship. The reason is that it's tied up with our sense of security. So, you might find it helpful to read my page on Relationship Communication first.

It'll help if you're able to talk about difficult subjects in general, so that you can be a little more prepared for a tricky conversation about your finances.

Next you need to know - and be able to verbalise - what your specific concerns are exactly.  Statements like: "You're spending too much" or "I don't like your attitude" will only lead to your partner wanting to defend themselves. Before you know it, you'll be arguing about money yet again and nothing will get resolved.

So, what is it that you're worried about? Are you worried that your partner is...

... simply 'wasting' money
... overspending on the credit card
... generally 'frittering' money away

Or is there something else worrying you?

To help you out with this, let me give you some examples of what may be underlying your fears:

  • You're feeling insecure because you're not (or are no longer) financially independent
  • You're feeling insecure because of a major crisis in your relationship - such as your partner having an affair
  • Your job is no longer secure
  • You suspect or know that you're contributing more to the household bills than your partner
  • Your collective debts are getting out of control
  • You're no longer able to service your personal debts

When you can verbalise exactly what your concerns are about your finances, you can start to think about possible solutions...

4 Strategies to help avoid arguments about money

Before having a conversation with your partner you need to think about what you consider to be the best solution. Bear in mind this needs to be one that leaves room to negotiate.  

At the same time, do remember that you can't change your partner, so try not to control him or her. Instead, present a sensible argument and let him/her mull it over and come up with some ideas of their own.

Here are a few examples of strategies that might help you both to manage your finances better:

  1. Have separate bank accounts as well as a joint account with direct debits for all the regular bills
  2. If you're a stay-at-home mum or dad, calculate your contribution to the general well-being of your family in terms of money and get a regular payment to reflect that
  3. If the two of you have been able to build up some savings, you may want to split that amount. You could make some of that available by way of individual saving accounts, rather than just one joint account
  4. Agree on the areas you both feel you can commit to spending less on. (One of the best and most fun Christmases I've had was when we agreed to spend no more than £10 on each other and buy as many presents as possible!)

Totally freaked out about your financial situation at the moment? Have a look at Marie Forleo's video - she has some great tips to help you feel calm and in control:

Credit cards and dollars

Does your partner know all there is to know about your personal finances? Or are you secretly squirrelling money away for a future 'project'? 

Are you totally open and honest with your partner? Or are you committing financial infidelity?

7 kinds of financial infidelity

  1. Secretly saving because you're planning to end the relationship? (There may be good reasons to do so of course, particularly if you're in an abusive relationship)
  2. Spending more money on yourself than you care to admit?
  3. Spending money on 'another' man or woman?
  4. Securing your future financially because you're concerned that your partner is spending too much?
  5. Creating a sense of safety because you worry that your partner may leave you?
  6. Being reluctant to admit how wealthy you really are - for whatever reason?
  7. Worrying about what your partner might do if he or she knew how much debt you've accrued?

Ideally you should be honest and upfront, so that the two of you can openly discuss your finances. Financial infidelity is devastating when it's discovered - your partner can rightfully think you've been leading a secret life.

You may get away with it for a while, but the chances are that he or she will find you out. At some point things will just not add up, with suspicions about either your behaviour or the finances themselves.

Your partner might become suspicious because of...

  • a chance comment from someone
  • a 'hidden' receipt a strange entry on a bank statement
  • a suspicious email or letter that doesn't make sense
  • an accumulation of 'stuff' that just doesn't add up

Your partner will most likely go on the hunt until they find sufficient evidence to confirm their suspicions. The discovery of your 'omissions' or outright lies will never come at a convenient moment!

Do you want to save your relationship? Or are you keen to improve it...

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