Money & Relationships

Financial wellbeing in relationships

Money, for many Kiwis, is a “taboo” subject that is well known to cause relationship stress. Achieving and maintaining a healthy financial status in a relationship is not always an easy task. It’s a journey, and every relationship is different – there is no one size fits all solution.  

While much of the information available is based on relationships between men and women, financial wellbeing is important in all relationships.

Understanding your own relationship with money

We all have personal perspectives on money and how it should be used. The questions below may provide some insight into the way we relate to money, and comparing your answers with your partner’s can help identify similarities, differences and areas that need to be clarified or negotiated before you make financial decisions.

  • How is money valued in your family / culture?
  • How open are you / your family to talk about money?
  • Are expectations in your family different for men and women around money – how?
  • Who handled the finances when you were growing up?
  • Do you see money as good, bad, or just necessary?
  • Did your parents treat you and your siblings the same, where money was involved?
  • What has influenced your view of money the most?
  • Should money be saved or spent?
  • What would you consider to be a luxury item?
  • What are your thoughts around debt?

Money and our relationship

Changing relationship status

Being single and having money all to yourself is great. You can spend it any way you want! However, in a relationship, money matters may not be so clearly defined. As individuals, the way we engage with money is influenced by many factors including gender norms, culture, life experiences etc. So it’s no surprise that emotions such as happiness, power, love, success and self-worth are also closely linked to the way we relate to money. Add to that, two people with different backgrounds, values and goals; no wonder so many of the challenges couples face are about money!

"I thought it would be easy, I was brought up in a family that budgeted, and I guess I just assumed everyone would do the same - I was wrong"

Valuing everyone's contribution

In most relationships one partner makes more money than the other and when we only count dollars, value is obvious. But what about the non-financial responsibilities within a relationship such as being the primary carer, doing household chores/maintenance, managing the accounts, doing family tasks etc. These have value so how will they be included or shared – will everything be spilt 50/50, or proportionally based on income and tasks? These can be quite complex questions, that when ignored, overlooked or minimised can have a significant impact on the relationship. By sharing the task of financial planning these issues can be discussed, negotiated and addressed. 

Making a plan together

It is easy to overspend or be carefree with money in a relationship, especially if there is no budget, shared financial goal or plan in place. Arguments and resentment can become common in this environment, impacting on intimacy and increasing the risk of economic abuse, and relationship breakdown.

Having a financial plan in place can create mutual respect that can strengthen relationships. Transparency is needed for this to work, which means full disclosure on income, expenses, spending habits, debts etc. 

Work together to design, agree and develop a money management plan
Be realistic and prepared to compromise
Discuss who will be responsible for what
Celebrate financial achievements!
Have regular conversations to keep both parties focused
Allocate money for bills and spending, but also romance!
Hold each other responsible for agreed actions
Include an 'emergency' plan for the unexpected
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Talking about money with your partner

Many issues in relationships are linked to the way we communicate our needs; so open honest and respectful communication plays a large role. Financial conversations are just as important as any other relationship conversation, and the sooner they happen, the more successful things are likely to be. 

Setting the scene

All couples benefit from talking about money, whether they just met, are in a long-term committed relationship, are experiencing financial stress, or doing well. However, before launching into a conversation there are a few things to consider:

Gender

Socially attributed roles and expectations lead to differences in the way women and men view money. Men tend to communicate in an authoritative way to achieve tangible outcomes and focus on their own needs. Women are often more family focussed, and use money to enhance social connections and create relationships.

Equality

One person may contribute more financially while the other contributes more in time and household tasks. In a healthy relationship all these contributions are valued. The goal is to get on the same page and come to an agreement, not 'win' or push a personal agenda.

Awareness

Review what was learnt about your own relationship to money and remember that your partner may have a very different perspective. Different isn’t necessarily wrong, so be respectful and understanding of your partners way of handling money.

Communication

Both parties need to understand what is being communicated. Emotions are powerful and can become heightened fast; before you know it, you are talking over each other in an effort to be heard, and no one is listening. Take turns talking and listening, reflect on what's important, be prepared to negotiate, and stick to the issue.

Location

You will need to be somewhere that is easy to talk openly - a safe space for both parties, that is comfortable, free from interruptions, or others overhearing.

Timing

It can be hard to know when the best time is to have a conversation about money. If it’s been a stressful day or people are exhausted it might be a good idea to wait until the household is rested, children are settled, and the mood is good.

The power of language

There is power in language – including words and how they are used, tone, body language, facial expressions etc. To have an open conversation, it needs to be non-confrontational and not personal.

Be aware of judgement language – the word “you” can imply blame; “should” can suggest something’s wrong and that another perspective is right; “always” can be heard as extreme and not allowing for different behaviour to be acknowledged.

Words like “hate, abusive, useless, angry” contain strong emotions that can trigger negative reactions.  Even the way a sentence begins can have a huge impact, for example; saying “we need to talk,” can heighten feelings of uncertainty and worry.

Honesty, however, can be effective, especially when using “I statements” – acknowledge that the topic is difficult, and explain your feelings and concerns in a non-threatening way.

Managing conflict

Conflict in relationships is normal – and ok as long as it’s constructive, and couples work together to navigate issues that arise. Transparency is key – remember you don’t know what you don’t know!

There are always power imbalances within relationships so the challenge is about finding balance, where both parties are feeling included and valued.

Finishing a conversation

When conversations come to an end, be clear about what has been agreed to (if anything), by whom, and any plans to review, or timeframes agreed.

Bibliography

Nicholson, K. (2020). Healthy Financial Relationships. Unpublished Manuscript

Sanders, S. (2015). Strong Beginnings: Financial Equals. WIRE: Melbourne. Retrieved from https://www.wire.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Strong-Beginnings-Final-Report-2015.pdf).

Scott, A. (2019). Healthy financial Relationships. Lecture Week 12 s2 [mp3] Retrieved from AUT University