Money worries and relationships

Published in Blog by Tavistock Relationships on July 14th 2023

Anxieties around money and finances are one of the most common things which can cause difficulties in relationships.

For example, you might be starting a new relationship and find that your new partner is in a much better, or worse, financial position than you. Or you may be in a long-term relationship and find that a sudden change in your financial position is turning your comfortable lifestyle upside down.

But what is it about money in particular, you might be asking yourself, which can end up causing such problems in an otherwise stable and loving relationship?

... think about the kinds of emotion – fear, guilt, shame and even envy – which are commonly linked to money and to issues around money

One way of answering this is to think about the kinds of emotion – fear, guilt, shame and even envy – which are commonly linked to money and to issues around money. 

Knowing how these emotions affect when you think about money may be useful because - without a deeper understanding of how you're feeling what you’re feeling, and why - you might find it harder to think rationally about the situation you find yourself in. This can help reduce the upset associated with the issues you are facing around money - and lead to more constructive, calmer discussions with your partner about the subject.

To take each of these emotions in turn:

  • You may be experiencing some very real fears about what any change in your financial circumstances will have on your life, your lifestyle and your future. This is very common, and understandable. You might also be afraid of not hitting financial vs age milestones. But, for a range of reasons, it may be that you (and your partner) find it difficult to articulate these fears to each other. In which case, it can be the communication issues between you which are as problematic, or more problematic, rather than the money issues themselves.
  • You may be feeling guilty about not earning enough to support your family or contribute sufficiently (compared to what your partner puts in each week or month). You may feel guilty that your partner is carrying the financial load, or you may feel guilty that you're earning more than your partner and understand that they don't feel good about it. Again, communicating about these issues can be understandably difficult for some partners, particularly if you have grown up in families/environments where the role of money and attitude to financial stability have been different.
  • If you have certain expectations of yourself in relation to your work and what you earn, it may be that you find yourself feeling ashamed that you aren’t earning as much as you would have expected to earn more at this stage. Or you have made some important financial decisions which have had a negative impact on your relationship. And of course shame is a common response if people are struggling with costly addictions such as gambling and alcohol dependence. Feelings of shame can be particular hard to broach within a relationship. They can also result in your putting off things that you should do, such as developing a financial plan that works or having that difficult conversation with your partner. 
  • Related to the above, you or your partner may be feeling envious about what the other earns. Or, as a couple, you may be feeling envious of how well other people or couples are doing, which can lead to arguments and resentment in your relationship.

Reducing the impact of financial worries on your relationship

Financial stress can cause problems in your relationship - that’s a given. But there are many ways in which couples can help themselves deal with the effects of financial problems. These include communicating about the problems, and being willing to understand each other’s strong money-related emotions. In practice, this may not be simple; but, to be effective, it will likely require a gentle approach and a desire to work on your financial problems together.

If your relationship is suffering from financial stress, you’ll know it. You’ll likely feel a sense of dread when finances are mentioned. You might even be hiding financial information from your partner for fear of anger, judgment or worse - a breakup. 

But while talking about the issues might feel difficult and uncomfortable, the act of sharing the information transparently may well help you decide what to do next.

If you can, it might be worth trying to set a time, when you are both free from distractions, to talk about the issues. 

If you feel that you can't do this without it resulting in a big argument, you could consider having an outside party ’supervise‘ the conversation so that you stay on track both in terms of topic and emotions.

Of course, people in relationships handle finances in very different ways. 

For example, some couples share all the finances, whereas others keep them separate. Some couples do a bit of both, sharing household and living expenses but keeping personal spending separate.

One of the outcomes of having a frank discussion with your partner about money can be that it helps you determine how you and your partner will handle the finances in the future. You might also want to use the discussion to develop a set of joint financial goals. This way you can feel that you have plan - together.  

Sharing the issues to help find solutions

Finances will continue to be a sensitive topic for most couples. However, if you can find a way of communicating openly and honestly with each other, you will be in a better position to avoid mounting tension around the subject. And instead of struggling under the weight of financial stress as individuals, you can work together to find solutions that ease the burden and keep your relationship on track.

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