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Lockdown: Facing money issues as a couple

As we emerge from coronavirus lockdown restrictions, many of us are facing an uncertain financial future. Some people have been furloughed or lost their jobs. Some businesses have closed or lost much of their revenue. Months after the lockdown was first announced, redundancy is now the top search term on the Citizens Advice website, and their benefits advice page views are at their highest ever levels.

Even in ordinary times, money troubles are one of the biggest causes of stress in relationships. More than half of couples include money worries in their top three relationship strains [1]. 60% of people who contact debt charities say they also have problems with their relationships, but they don’t necessarily seek relationship support [2]. 

On top of that, we’re feeling the effects of a global event that affects us in ways we can’t avoid and that aren’t our fault, which can feel unfair and unsettling [3].

When you’re struggling with money, you and your partner might have less time together and argue more. Arguments about money can be different to other types of arguments – they can last longer, are more likely to get out of hand, and can have a bigger impact on your relationship [4].

But there are practical steps you can take if you’re worried about money, from getting advice on what to do if coronavirus has affected you financially, to managing the stress together with your partner.

Get some help

Charities such as Citizens Advice, Money Advice Service, and the National Debtline can help you figure out what benefits you can get — including coronavirus-specific relief — what to do if you can’t pay your bills or rent, and dealing with debt. 

Consider seeking emotional support as well. Research has shown that relationship counselling can help people cope better with financial problems [6]. Organisations such as Relate can help with telephone or webcam counselling and live chat services.

Talk about money

Couples who talk openly about money tend to cope better in tough times. In one study, couples who consciously worked together at finding solutions were better at maintaining their relationship through difficult financial periods. These couples made the decision to see their money problems as separate from the relationship, focusing on the importance of communicating well and working together [5].

Aside from overspending, one of the biggest money problems relationships face is appointing one partner to manage all the household finances while the other takes a back seat [6]. While this might seem simpler, it can often increase stress in relationships, creating an extra burden for the person in control [7], and leaving the other person in the dark.

The couples who have the most success at dealing with their issues are those who recognise the need for trust and communication around financial matters. When you can trust each other to pay bills on time, discuss big purchases, and avoid overspending, you’re likely to feel more confident in your finances and in your relationship [5].

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 not sure how to get started with a budget, you can find a free planner and some online guides through the Money Advice Service.

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 money is tighter than usual? Remember that these changes might only be temporary – it can be easier to adjust when you know what you’re working towards.

Take time for each other 

You may have to cut back your spending, but this doesn’t mean you should stop making time for each other. Some couples gave us their suggestions:

  • Look for cheaper alternatives to your preferred activities. For example, a football fan might pay for a subscription radio service as a cheaper alternative to going to all the games.
  • Go out but spend less. If you go for a meal, just have one course. Get a bottle of wine or some cans from the shop to take home.
  • When the weather is nice, take walks and picnics in the park.
  • Look for free activities in your area. You might be surprised by the fun events available at no cost.

Learn how to support each other well by reading our tips on coping with stress together. 

Don’t delay

If you’re worried about money, watch this story to see why you should act as soon as possible to deal with the issues and talk to your partner.

References

[1] Undy, H.,  Bloomfield, B.,  Jopling, K., Marcus, L.,  Saddington, P., &  Sholl, P. (2015). The way we are now: The state of the UK’s relationships 2015. Relate, Relationships Scotland, Marriage Care.
[2] Findings from OnePlusOne interviews with major UK debt charities, further supported by Olson, G. Olson, D. National Survey of Marital Strengths, April 2003.(66% of problems in marriage are associated with ‘major debt’)
[3] Dew, J.P., & Xiao, J.J. (2013) Financial Declines, Financial Behaviors, and Relationship Satisfaction during the Recession. Journal of Financial Therapy, 4(1).
[4] 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
[5] Skogrand, L., Johnson, A.C., Horrocks, A.M., DeFrain, J. (2011). Financial Management Practices of Couples with Great Marriages. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32: 27.
[6] Doherty, H. F. (2006). Communication is vital to a couple's successful financial life. Dental Economics, 96(11), 92-93.
[7] Rowlingston, K. & Joseph, R. (2009). Assets and Debts Within Couples: Ownership and Decision-Making. Friends Provident Foundation.

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