Money can have a huge impact on our relationships. According to our report on the nation’s relationships, The Way We Are Now, money worries are actually the biggest strain on couples across the UK - with over a quarter saying they experience this pressure.
Yet research also shows that, despite its influence on how happy we are in our relationships, a large proportion of us feel unable to actually talk about money with our partners. A 2019 report by Lloyds Bank found that half of UK adults feel that discussing money is taboo, and 44% have avoided talking about money with their partner.
So what are the topics that have left so many of us apparently too nervous even to speak?
Joint finances are a big one. These can be particularly tricky as they touch a whole range of other, equally complicated areas of discussion. Setting up a joint account together is an act of serious trust - it means letting your partner into your life, often in a way that you may never have before. It’s also something of a declaration of commitment - an escalation in the seriousness of your relationship.
Joint finances can be complicated by two things in particular: when each partner has significantly different earning power, or when they have very different attitudes towards money. The former can trigger disagreements over fairness in terms of who ‘gets to’ spend more. And the latter, if you’re not careful, can become a huge source of conflict - an argument that’s repeated over and over, with neither side seeing the perspective of the other.
Why do people open joint accounts? A study in June, 2023, showed that moving in together generally wasn't enough of a reason, but things like having kids or getting married was. But generally, the study found that having a joint account was less commonplace than you might think.
When it comes to joint finances, communication and agreement is key. Consider your individual circumstances and find a system that works for you.
Splitting up, splitting assets
And, just as money can affect how your relationship progresses, it can also affect how it ends. It’s a battle that’s been waged by countless couples when they separate: who gets what, and on what basis. Pensions can be an area of particular grievance - after the family home, this is often the biggest asset.
Working out your emotional relationship with money
So how do you go about tackling the subject of money as a couple? Well, the short answer is: talk about it, even if makes you feel awkward.
The best place to start this process is one that might sound a little strange, but can actually be really useful: try to begin by thinking about your emotional relationship with money.
We tend to think of finances as being very logical, but - as the research above suggests - they can affect our emotions in all kinds of ways. Coming to terms with how you feel about money can be a great starting point for knowing how to make good practical decisions.
This might mean thinking about some of the ideas around money that you’ve grown up with - the things your parents taught you, or even the financial topics that they themselves seemed to get emotional about. It can often be illuminating to realise that anxieties we have around these kinds of things were passed onto us without us even realising it. And coming to terms with these ideas can mean you’re better able to communicate them to your partner, instead of just acting on your anxieties.
Start the conversation about money
And the second part of the process is the more straightforward one: try to have an open, practical and straightforward conversation with your partner.
It can be useful to talk about money like you’re having a business meeting - looking at any areas that might need looking at and trying to make some fair, mutually beneficial plans around them. Approaching things in this logical way can help take the emotions - and the awkwardness - out of the topic, and allow you to head off any potential issues before they become real.
You might like to consider the following:
Take turns to speak - and make sure to listen. This might sound obvious, but it can be easy to focus mostly on getting your point across and forget to actually take in what the other person has to say.
Be ready to compromise. As with many contentious relationship topics, it’s not always possible to meet eye to eye on every detail. It’s better to go into the conversation being ready to concede in certain areas if necessary.
Draw up a plan. Discussing things, of course, is very important, but it’s also important that there’s a practical side to things too. If you think it will be useful, it may be worth setting down in writing some concrete ideas for how you could proceed.
Come back to the discussion later. It can be easy to simply have one big talk and hope that’ll do it for the foreseeable future. But building good habits as a couple is sometimes about returning to the same topics repeatedly - to make sure that you’re both still doing ok, and that what you talked about is still working for both of you.
Feeling unsafe to talk about money
Financial abuse is a term used when someone’s treatment of their partner’s finances (or their shared finances) results in their partner feeling controlled, trapped or undermined.
As with other forms of abuse, there is a spectrum of behaviour.
Your partner might simply be consistently inconsiderate, such as occasionally spending money from the joint account without talking about it first. There’s room for debate here around whether the behaviour is abusive or simply unproductive. However, the way in which the other person is affected is crucial. If their self-esteem or ability to control their finances is seriously impacted, then it’s likely that an abusive pattern has formed.
But financial abuse can involve things like not allowing someone to access money as a way of limiting their ability to do things for themselves. Or taking big risks with joint resources, such as gambling or squandering money on drugs or alcohol.
Money and pets
Concerned about the cost of living and looking after your pets? The RSPCA have some useful advice on meeting the needs of your pet whilst on a budget.
From where to find your nearest pet food bank, advice on managing vet bills through to DIY games and treats for your pets, our advice section has lots of helpful tips and suggestions.
If you would like to speak to someone about your situation however, we have a dedicated advice line that is available Monday-Friday 9am - 5pm. Please call 0300 123 0650
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