How to avoid a money meltdown with your partner

Tips for couples with different money values to make their relationship work

It makes the world go around, but money can be the source of serious problems among couples, in some cases leading to total relationship breakdowns.

Of course it’s not the money per se that creates the issues, but rather our views surrounding it - our financial values and whether or not they’re compatible with those of the person we’ve chosen to spend our lives with.

Experts agree that money is one of the major contributing factors leading to separation.

And let’s face it, arguments about money can be more intense than others...

Due to the potential outcomes or fallouts relating to financial management or lack thereof, whether that be buying your first home or surviving on one income after starting a family - arguments about money can be intense.

“The way we think about money represents some of our values, and problems can arise when these values clash,” says relationships councillor Susan De Campo.

“So, if one person believes it’s important to pay off the mortgage as soon as possible and the other person believes it’s important to have overseas holidays every two years, because you will not be able to do both, conflict arises.”

De Campo says couples with opposing financial values can make their relationship work, provided they engage in open and honest communication.

The first step though is recognising your own attitude to money, as well as that of your partner. At a very basic level, that’s determining whether you’re a “saver” or a “spender”.

Once you’ve done that, it’s crucial to have the conversation in order to discover each other’s inherent values and belief systems associated with money and finance.

Of course, discussions of this nature can deteriorate quickly if not approached with caution.

De Campo suggests underpinning your discussion with an attitude of ‘respectful curiosity’, bearing in mind that the way most people approach money is related to their parents’ financial personalities.

Ask questions such as:

“What are your earliest memories
of learning about money?”
“Where did you learn how to
manage money and finances?”
“What makes you feel financially
secure?”

General conversations are a good place to start and once you do get down to the nitty-gritty, try to avoid using accusatory tones. If you disagree on a point, rather than become angry, try to use a question as a catalyst to analyse the issue further.

If all else fails, seek the support of a financial professional.

“A great question to ask is ‘can you help me understand that – it’s not an idea that I grew up with’,” says De Campo.

If the conversation goes pear shaped, realise that a nerve has been hit. Take a break and explore the feeling – do not return to the topic in the same way, instead ask your partner why that particular issue was sensitive for them.

The good news is, with open communication, mutual compromise and some workable strategies, even couples with different money values can make their relationship a success.

Accept that you're different

Understand that different means just that. It doesn’t mean one person is right and the other is wrong. You can agree to disagree, providing you can recognise your individual attitudes and find a way to meet in the middle. Understanding that different financial personalities can be valid will also result in more respectful conversations.

Allocate a “free spend” allowance

If money is tight, and especially if one half of the couple enjoys a frivolous spend, allocate a specific amount for discretionary purchases. Whether it’s per week or per month will depend on your how much disposable income is available, but keeping the value consistent, and removing limitations on what is being purchased, will reduce feelings of resentment down the track.

Draw up a budget

The benefits of developing a detailed budget are significant. Along with painting a clear picture of our financial health, as well as how much disposable income is left after bills and expenses are paid, a budget takes the guesswork out of financial discussions.

Hypothetical conversations are more likely to be emotionally charged and opinion based. Being armed with the facts keeps things simple, providing a stable platform from which to make decisions.

Be financially transparent

Trust is crucial for the success of any relationship, and the perception of dishonesty surrounding spending can prompt feelings of betrayal which can be difficult to overcome.

Whether your bank accounts are joint or separate, being transparent with spending is important in maintaining a sense of intimacy and trust. Be honest from the beginning, including disclosing any debt or credit problems, and continue to be transparent, regardless of any disagreements.

Get professional help

If all else fails, seek the support of a financial professional. Many financial planners are used to having conversations with couples about these difficult matters and can assist in developing a plan that suits both parties.

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