Why is it so hard to talk about money?

September 15, 2022

Money can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss with your partner. It can make or break a relationship.

A survey by ANZ found that more than 50% of those surveyed, said they would rather talk about politics than their finances.

But money is an important tool that helps us make financial decisions with loved ones and build on our healthy relationships.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s money taboo stems from the British who considered it bad manners to talk about household finances.

Historically the wealthier upper-class families usually kept their financial matters to themselves to avoid the topic of social inequality altogether.

Similarly, middle-class families didn’t talk about money for the sake of hiding their economic fragility and status from others.

The working-class people didn’t mind discussing the difficulties they went through to support themselves and their families.

To this day, attitudes and behaviour toward money still differ depending on race and class, combining to make the topic deeply personal.

Money can represent uncomfortable emotions such as fear guilt, shame, and envy and these factors can contribute to why individuals avoid all sorts of communication about it.

Your income, spending habits and budget are topics that we might tend to feel judged on because, for many, self-worth is equal to the financial worth.

Money can also become a sensitive topic and source of tension especially if one of you earns significantly more than the other, leading to resentment, conflict and relationship breakdown.

Having different values from your partner can make it difficult to communicate about money. One partner might be more frugal and easily can stick to a budget, while the other spends more wrecklessly.

For women, the lesson to not discuss money matters because it shows impoliteness has been rooted more deeply into their minds, as men were thought to be the primary breadwinners.

Despite the Equal Pay Act 1972 requiring pay equality, a gender gap remains. Even fifty years after this law came into effect, women are still experiencing economic discrimination in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, women are currently paid around 9.1% less than men and this gap is wider for Māori and Pasifika women.

By not talking about money with each other, we allow these inequalities to persist. Women have made enormous progress in many areas and should consider themselves financially capable to make important financial decisions. 

Why does the money taboo still exist?

This taboo keeps us ignorant of better habits, practices and perspectives which can lead to economic abuse by weaponizing money to deprive women of their freedom.

The harm that it also can cause to individual mental well-being, personal relationships, and traditional gender roles, can affect not only women and children, but any gender and even families.

This social norm has carried into adulthood and is a key barrier to better financial decision-making for society.

To break the money taboo, couples can:

Consider your mindset as well as your partner’s. Before discussing money matters, take the time to think about how you and your partner value money. By understanding each other’s perspectives will lead to more thoughtful conversations instead of arguments.
Both partners should have equal say in critical financial decisions. There may be an imbalance in the relationship – sometimes a partner who earns more than the other may feel they have more right to make decisions. Talking about money can help you grow together and work towards joint financial goals, building a stronger relationship.
Transparency of financial information is crucial. A lack of honesty can result in severe consequences such as arguments, divorce, and even financial abuse. Through communication and transparency, you can align your financial journeys together and help achieve each other’s financial goals.
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Healthy Financial Relationships Toolkit

Finally, Good Shepherd NZ have a free Healthy Financial Relationships Toolkit, created in partnership with AUT, for you to use.

The toolkit gives you, no matter what stage your relationship is at, different entry points to start conversations about money, improve your understanding of your own relationship with money and learn what healthy financial relationships look like.

Healthy Financial Relationships toolkit

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Picture of Sanskriti Parasher

Sanskriti Parasher

Accounting student minoring in finance at AUT