How To Handle Money And Relationships

No one really likes talking about money – even the ones who have a lot of it.

When it comes to love, financial issues often get swept under the carpet, only getting an airing when doing a relationship spring clean. Ignoring money matters can allow issues to fester and grow until without warning, that $15 boutique organic chocolate you bought 2 months ago can shake every solid foundation of your relationship.

A 2015 study by Relationships Australia found around 85% of people surveyed believed financial problems pushed couples apart. It also concluded money issues were a “stronger predictor of divorce than other commonly cited causes of marital disagreements”.

Dr John Gottman from the relationship-focussed Gottman Institute believes financial arguments are often a cover for so much more.

“Money is loaded with power and meaning that can make can discussions heated and hurtful. Arguments about money aren’t about money. They are about our dreams, our fears, and our inadequacies,” Gottman says on his website.

Aren’t relationships hard enough without ignoring that elephant in the room? Yes, it’s awkward, difficult and often embarrassing – but not acknowledging Dumbo can breed resentment and dishonesty in all areas of our relationship. So it’s time to face it head on, be brave and put a plan of financial action into place.

Here’s how you can do it successfully.

#1 Understand you both might be on a different page

Everyone has different beliefs around money.

In fact, research shows our ideas around money stem from family experiences growing up. We might not even be aware of certain feelings around finances until they’re triggered.

It’s strange to think when we first meet someone we’re hell-bent on assessing our compatibility in all major areas, yet values around money rarely pop up. We‘re quite vocal about everything from kids to the refugee crisis but it’s harder to throw, “Oh and by the way, what are your spending patterns like?” into second date banter.

Certified Financial Planner Robert Reid from the Eqeus financial planning firm says it’s a crucial area to approach early on. “You can’t expect your partner to treat money the same way as you do or to value the same types of spending as you,” he tells us. The best way to understand your partner is to ask them directly.

#2 Money talks

Ah, the big C: communication. While it’s key in all areas of a relationship, when it comes to money, it’s essential to get right.

Robert suggests no matter how unnatural it seems, “setting aside half an hour a week to chat about finances helps to keep relationships on track.” While it may not be your idea of a hot date night, what’s the alternative? A build-up of resentment that explodes over a simmering Bolognese?

“I like the idea of having a financial date night where you go out for a meal or cook at home and spend 30 minutes catching up on your finances. Once it’s done, go out and enjoy your evening with your partner,” Robert says.

#3 Honesty

As a financial planner, Robert has seen his fair share of bickering couples. He’s noticed much of their tension stems from dishonesty or a lack of trust in each other.

But being dishonest is more than having secret accounts or lying about those exxy purchases, it’s also about being honest with ourselves. What are we prepared to do to cut costs or contribute to the partnership?

Psychologist Jacqui Manning agrees that mistrust around money is a core relationship problem but being open about our spending doesn’t necessarily mean we have to sacrifice it all.

“There’s a balance to having the freedom to spend money on things you like and spending within your limits. Buy a new handbag, but not a designer one if you can’t afford it,” she suggests.

#4 Money management and strategy = success

Ultimately our goals around talking about money are based on three main things: healthy communication, honesty and team work. To excel in all three you’ll need a strategy, so our experts suggest incorporating these tips:

  • Set goals together and celebrate achieving them. Be a team.
  • Automate finances as much as possible – if you have a joint account, agree on an amount that’s automatically transferred into it and then set up direct deposits from this account. It’s cleaner than having to chase up money from your partner or squabbling at the checkout about the quinoa you don’t want to pay for.
  • Look at both sets of earnings and decide how you’re going to pay for things. Will it be 50/50? Will the higher earner help out more? There’s no right or wrong, it’s about having the talk.
  • Look at roles and delegate. Generally one person is more organised than the other when it comes to bills, but don’t assume they like it that way. Perhaps one person can handle household costs while the other keeps an eye on car payments and insurance? Perhaps you even swap the roles every few months to keep it fair.
  • Discuss big ticket items ahead of time. Avoid spontaneous purchases – do you really need that coffee table aquarium right there and then? Talking ahead of time means both of you have a say, and it’s less likely to cause a nuclear war.

#5 Don’t expect your partner to change

One of the biggest hurdles a couple can face is denial over their bad money habits. Robert warns against ignoring red flags that appear around money and your partner. Change won’t occur without putting in the hard yards. If you had that initial chat about financial values early on, you’ll not only get an idea about their values around money but their values in a relationship too.

In extreme cases, he suggests giving your partner time to sort out their finances before committing fully.

A published freelance writer from print to online, Katy’s passion is honest authentic writing. From the mundane experience to a sensational observation, Katy always finds a way to voice what she sees. Relatable and quirky, she writes with warmth and familiarity. She also loves lists, matching socks and edamame beans. You can find her on Twitter @whatktdidnextfw and Facebook.

Want to start saving?

Open a Westpac savings account to take control of your money.

Find Out More