ffrom arguments over the rising costs of the weekly grocery store and heating bills to spending on extras like night outs, financial woes caused by the cost of living crisis can strain even the most loving relationship.
The website Counseling Directory says there has been an increase in the number of people using its site to find a therapist, as well as reading about topics such as “understanding conflict in a relationship”.
In a survey of 600 of her therapists, a third reported an increase in the number of clients talking about relationship problems caused by the rising cost of living. Many also noted that more clients had difficulty leaving their partner due to financial problems.
This is according to research published late last year by the real estate portal Zoopla a third of home-owning couples were forced to live together after separation, for an average of more than a year. In some cases, the reason for the breakup was financial problems, and it is finances that force many to stay with their ex, and almost half say they simply cannot afford to move out.
If the rising cost of living means you need to have a serious talk with your partner about money, perhaps for the first time, real estate property experts. However, the most important thing is to reach a place where you can have a constructive conversation about what is taboo for some, even if it means seeking outside help.
Money problems cause anxiety
The sudden discovery that you can’t pay for things you previously could afford is characteristic of a situation where you “get out of control in a very simple way,” says Andrew Balfour, CEO of Tavistock Relationships, a charity that provides support services for families and couples. “The world is moving, you’re doing what you always do, and yet suddenly it’s not enough.”
Balfour adds, “Being out of control, taking things away, being able to meet the demands of the world and the needs of the family can be deeply threatening and cause deep anxiety for all of us.”
She says resilience is important for a couple, which means being able to talk, think and solve problems together: “Our families and couple relationships are our most valuable resource for dealing with these very real external realities.”
Pros of talking about money
In addition to the obvious emotional benefits of sharing our concerns with those we love, there are also financial benefits.
Investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown runs a “Savings and Resilience Barometer” that measures how households fare across a range of areas of their finances, from debt to pensions to how much cash they have left at the end of the month. The exercise also tests who makes financial decisions in the household: does the person with the highest income in the household make the most important financial decisions alone, or does the couple make them together?
More recently, it found that overall, about half of those surveyed had enough cash at the end of the month, but that figure rose to nearly two-thirds among couples who made financial decisions together. Three-quarters of couples who plan together have enough savings for emergencies – more than those who don’t. It also increases the chances of a comfortable retirement.
Say what you mean
But the ability to make joint financial decisions usually doesn’t come easily. “In my experience, money is really taboo and people avoid talking about it unless they have to,” says Laura Duester, an Oxfordshire psychotherapist and member of the Counseling Directory. As a result, misunderstandings may escalate.
“I often see people think they’ve passed on something to their partner,” she says. “They think they said it really clearly, but their partner didn’t get it. We often think we are saying something, but in reality we are suggesting rather than saying.
He gives an example of one partner spending money on something the other partner doesn’t see as profitable – alcohol, for example.
“Often the problem is not the expenditure itself, but the values underlying the behavior. Therefore, a dissatisfied partner may make malicious comments about the partner’s behavior without directly expressing their feelings. It’s usually better and more effective to sit down and talk calmly, saying something like, “It worries me that you’re spending money on this because I don’t think it supports our household and doesn’t help our stability.”
He adds that people often have different values about money and how they spend it. “For example, going out and socializing can be absolutely essential for one person and how they maintain well-being; may be even more important [to them] than heating. For someone else who is more of an introvert, spending money on socializing may seem frivolous, and heating seems like the most important thing. Neither can understand the other because they haven’t really understood and expressed what their values are.”
Psychologist Linn Heed, who is an advisor to Coupleness, an app that aims to improve relationships between romantic relationships, agrees. “I think most people think that in a love relationship you should talk about everything – sex, money, family. But very often there are problems with these topics because people are afraid of being judged or cornered. You keep quiet, but you have many thoughts and feelings that do not disappear. And when you remain silent, problems will always increase.
He believes that people need to find a constructive way to communicate. “You have to have enough courage to speak up, to explain to your partner without accusing, because when someone feels accused, they go to the defense, and then the conflict is almost more difficult than before – the distance between them will be greater and deeper.”
But how do you talk about money?
Start with “me” statements to ease the pressure, says Peter Saddington of Relate. “You can say, ‘I’m worried I won’t put aside enough money to pay the bills when they come in this month. Can we sit down and talk about it?
However, his most important piece of advice is not to initiate this conversation before bed when you’ve been thinking about it all day but your partner may have been thinking elsewhere. “Then you have one in a state of heightened anxiety and it all works – it comes out like that and the other person is really caught unaware and not reacting appropriately so it turns into a rather unpleasant argument very quickly.”
Plan when you’re going to talk about it, at a time that works for both of you, and as she advises, keep everything you might need on hand, such as bank statements and bills, so you’re prepared.
Also, avoid alcohol as it won’t help. “How many times have I had couples say, ‘I just needed a drink because I was really worried. [the conversation]’ – but of course it turns into an argument very quickly if you’ve been drinking because you become a little more uninhibited,” Saddington says.
“When we are anxious, our defense is anger. Often when couples come, I help them understand that their anger is actually related to the fact that they are worried. When couples start to realize that it’s based on fear, they can start talking about it in a different way.”
Money is a topic you will need to discuss with your partner more than once. If you haven’t practiced chatting about money, it’ll be hard to get started, but, says Jenny Warwick, a therapist registered with the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy based in East Sussex, that doesn’t mean that’s a reason to be off.
“It’s not just a one-time thing that’s over in half an hour and you don’t have to think about it anymore,” he says. “You start a conversation, but it will be an ongoing conversation that will get easier. Openness and honesty in a relationship will never be a bad thing.”
“I think couples counseling comes with a shame and stigma that people only go when things are absolutely at the bottom, which is not the case at all,” Warwick says.
“We’re here to help wherever you are. Things don’t have to be scary – just being able to discuss things, saying things out loud is really helpful. Half the time is all you need.”
Pros and cons of joint finance
Before you buy joint financial products or buy a property together, it is important to understand the financial and legal implications of doing so.
Shared financial products will connect your credit files. Credit reference agencies warn that your partner’s finances can affect yours – which is why companies may check your partner’s credit history when deciding whether to approve you for a loan, as they believe your “financial associates” can affect your ability to pay off debt.
Experian uses the example of a person whose partner went bankrupt. In these situations, companies may be concerned that you will have to help them pay off their debts before you can pay your own.
What many couples also don’t realize is that cohabitation doesn’t give you automatic rights to each other’s money, property, or even a home, depending on how you structure the contract.
Drafting a contract together can clarify your position and force you to discuss details about who owns what, so it’s not a shock. At this point, you can also choose to see a financial adviser or turn to an adviser to arrange a practical talk about money.
If you’re struggling to make progress with your partner, remember that you don’t have to do it alone.
Tavistock Relationships has created the Between Us app, which it says can help you better understand what’s going wrong in your relationship and do something about it. The app includes a series of exercises with videos, tips and information, with a special focus on the conflict around money.