One of the biggest causes of relationship stress and relationship breakdown is disagreements over money. Even couples who have been together a very long time and who otherwise have a loving relationship can find themselves regularly in conflict over money issues. Either that, or one person simply concedes to the other in order to achieve harmony. In some cases, money issues between two people can become controlling or abusive.
A healthy financial relationship is a prerequisite to a healthy personal relationship and it requires each person having a good understanding of their relationship with money as a starting point.
A new resource to help people, especially women, understand their relationship with money and how to build a healthy financial relationship with their partner has been developed by Good Shepherd New Zealand. Good Shepherd is a charitable non-government organisation that was established to help address the critical, contemporary issues facing women, girls and families. Their Healthy Financial Relationships Toolkit is available here.
Everybody has a different relationship with money, based on different childhood experiences and different values, amongst other things. It’s important to understand not only your own relationship with money, but your partner’s relationship with money, because differences can cause conflict. There is no right and wrong relationship with money. Some people are spenders and some are savers. Some people are risk averse and some aren’t. The important thing is to understand the consequences of these different attitudes and to find ways of dealing with them respectfully within a relationship.
Some people have backgrounds which are more privileged than others. Being brought up in a two-parent, well-educated family that is English-speaking and where there is reasonable access to food, clothing and housing is more likely to lead to better financial outcomes later in life.
Past traumas can impact your relationship with money. For example, someone who has experienced financial bullying in a past relationship may be reluctant to let go of control of their money in a new relationship. Understanding any past traumas experienced by you or your partner and how these have affected attitudes towards money can help reduce conflict.
There are various life events which can be trigger points for discussions about money in a relationship, such as moving in together, starting or ending a relationship, having children, blending families, or planning for retirement. The Healthy Financial Relationships Toolkit offers guidance in how to approach these conversations.
Starting conversations about money early in a relationship helps to set up a system of communication right from the beginning. It is especially important to have a conversation with your partner if you are feeling uncomfortable about certain things. Guilt can be an issue if one partner earns less and uses joint money to make purchases. The higher-earning partner can feel resentment at having to support the partner who earns less. Differences in incomes can also lead to power struggles over money, or unhealthy behaviours such as hiding money or withholding information about money. These are all issues that need to be resolved.
Starting a conversation about money is best done at a time when both parties are relaxed, when there is no time pressure, and in an environment where there are no distractions or interruptions. It’s a good idea to make a ‘date’ to talk about money issues.
Avoid finger-pointing or blaming when talking about money, and don’t exaggerate the situation. Remember that there is no right and wrong and be respectful of the other person’s different relationship with money. Keep emotions under control and be open to change. It’s also important to be really clear about what is working for you and what isn’t, and to ensure that there is equality in your financial relationship. Even though one person may earn more than the other, both should know what is happening to the money and have a choice in the degree of their financial involvement. It’s OK for one person to do all the financial administration so long as the other person has been offered the opportunity to be involved and is kept informed.
A simple tip for starting a conversation about money is to ask the $100,000 question – that is, what would you do if you were given $100,000? The answer to this question reveals a lot about someone’s relationship with money and their money priorities – a great place to start which will help you build a foundation for future money conversations.