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Talking to your partner about money

Money is one of the biggest causes of stress in relationships. Some couples worry about how to spend or save it but, for most couples, the biggest money-related stress comes from not having enough of it [1].

The stress of living from one payday to the next, worrying about how to cover the essentials, can affect every area of your life and the impact on your relationship with your partner may be harder than you expect.

Constantly arguing about money can start to affect how you feel about your relationship and when the underlying difficulties aren’t dealt with, things can quickly get rocky [2] [3].

A surprise event like losing your job, or an unplanned expense can all add to this pressure. Events in the wider world like the financial recession can feel very unfair and unsettling because they affect us in ways we can’t avoid and that aren’t our fault [4].

Arguments about money are often different to other types of argument. They can last longer, they are more likely to get out of hand, and they can have a bigger impact on your relationship [5]. As one couple said:

My husband and I both work and we can't afford to do anything … without [money], life is horrible [1].

When arguments about money are ignored, it can make couples more likely to break up [6] so, if you’ve been arguing about money a lot lately, it’s worth addressing things:

  • Talk about money. Our attitudes to money are often formed when we are young. If you and your partner have different attitudes to money, it can be very unsettling. Talk to your partner about what money means to you – what you learned about it growing up, and how you prefer to manage things. You may discover that your arguments about money are tied to other topics, and it’s helpful to get these out in the open.
  • Be honest with your partner. Hiding from your money problems won’t make them go away, but sharing the burden could make things easier. Get everything out in the open so that you know exactly what it is you’re dealing with. For more help on talking about debts, follow the guidelines on our debt and relationships
  • Make a budget. Get together and write down your income and your expenses, starting with unavoidable things like housing and energy bills. If you’re new to budgeting, it might be easier to start by keeping a record of what you’re spending over the course of a few months. This can help you build a picture of how things are working currently and what might need to change.
  • Cut your costs. Go through your expenses and work out where you can make cuts and savings. Can you change your energy suppliers or switch to a cheaper phone plan? Can you cut your food bills by going to a cheaper supermarket or buying things in bulk? What can you live without while you’re getting things sorted? Remember that these changes might only be temporary – it can be easier to adjust when you know what you’re working towards.
  • Get some help. If you’re in debt, and can’t see a way to get it under control, contact a debt management service. They will be able to help you put together a repayment plan, including arranging more realistic payments and devising a workable budget. The sooner you deal with this, the quicker you will get back on top of things.
  • Separate your finances. Merged finances, and joint bank accounts can help you manage your money, but if you and your partner want a bit of financial freedom, agree that a portion of your money will remain yours alone. If things are really tight, it might only be a small amount, but allowing yourselves a little bit to save or spend as you please could give you one less thing to argue about.

[1] Coleman (2014) – Strengthening relationships – analysis of the Public Conversation about relationships on social network sites, January 2014 to June 2014.

[2] Fincham, F, & Beach, S., 2010. Marriage in the new millennium: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 630-649.

[3] Amato, P. R., Booth, A., Johnson, D. R., & Rogers, S. J. (2009) Alone together: How marriage in America is changing. Harvard University.

[4] Dew, J.P., & Xiao, J.J. (2013) Financial Declines, Financial Behaviors, and Relationship Satisfaction during the Recession. Journal of Financial Therapy, 4(1).

[5] Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke ‐ Morey, M. C. (2009) For richer, for poorer: Money as a topic of marital conflict in the home. Family Relations, 58(1), 91-103

[6] Kneale, D., Marjoribanks, D., and Sherwood, C. (2014) Relationships, Recession and Recovery: The role of relationships in generating social recovery. London: Relate).

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