Money! But it's not about how much you have!
It always fascinates me listening to other couples talking about how they manage their finances. That is if they are willing to share; talking about money is almost as taboo as talking about your sex life! But why is that? It strikes me that there is a correlation between a successful relationship and making financial arrangements that both partners are happy with so it would be good to know how people navigate this minefield.
Money is rarely cited as a reason in divorce but looking at the list of common reasons couples part, you can view most of them through the lens of money.
- Broken promises, lying, cheating, stealing
- Imbalance of power in relationships
- Acceptance of stereotypes in relationships
- Isolation from friends and family
- Low self-esteem, insecurity, and lack of self-confidence
- Excessive jealousy
- Ineffective communication
- Control issues
Money can be used as a tool to exert control and establish power. There is still a strong gender stereotype around who is the breadwinner and this can lead to resentment and arguments. Money can be withheld to keep someone away from their family and friends or situations that may lead them into contact with potential new partners. One person in the relationship may find it hard to better themselves and improve their self-confidence, for example by going back to education. Without the agreement of a partner to take the financial strain for a while, it’s not easy to have a break from earning. Money can also be a problem where there is a lack of honesty, for example, with hidden addictions and debt. This betrayal can be as hard as any romantic affair.
Lack of communication is probably the main problem for most couples at one time or other and it seems that money is one of the hardest things to talk about without putting up barriers. From feeling judged about our spending to lack of ambition and earning power, not to mention simple ineptitude and disorganisation there are so many ways money can be a problem within a relationship.
So how do happy couples deal with the issue?
I asked my colleagues what were their secrets to a happy partnership when it comes to money, both from their own experience and from clients we have worked with for many, many years…
We did have a lot of banter about not letting your partner loose with the credit card but there were some serious responses as well.
A common thread was someone talking the reins and keeping track and usually one of you is more likely to be good at or interested in doing that. Somebody does need to be on top of the finances - it helps if one person has oversight but don’t just leave it to them, make sure you both know what is going on and regularly discuss your spending and provisions.
Setting shared rules and parameters so things stay on track - financial problems put an enormous strain on relationships. One colleague said a shared bank account for bills and another each for personal spending had worked well for them. This seems to be a common route.
Pooling resources is the ultimate act of trust – not for everyone maybe as it means there is no ring-fencing for bills that must be paid. It also makes it difficult to buy surprise gifts!
One of my colleagues was very perceptive…”Set financial goals/priorities together and don’t keep any big financial secrets.” One of the best ways to both get on the same page with your money is to have shared goals and a vision for the medium and long term that helps both of you understand what you are going to do with your money. When you are both agreed on this, it makes it easier to make shared decisions in the short term. So, when one of you says "No, it’s not a good idea" to go on the minibreak to Milan because you need a new kitchen next year you both agree (this story is not about me at all…)
For some people, it’s hard to have the vision and find the time to discuss the future. Working with a financial planner helps couples to articulate their dreams and hopes and talk about them in a neutral environment. So although we are certainly not relationship counsellors, working with a financial professional can certainly make sure that money is less likely to cause a problem in the future.
Ruth Power, Director of Business Development