Financial anxieties like uncertainty about your financial future, unemployment, and sudden financial hardship are just a few hurdles couples will face throughout the course of a relationship. Depending on what your relationship with money is, it can be triggering, intimidating, and downright scary to talk about. But talking about it is important.
There is a lot of advice out there on how couples can be better savers, but in the midst of financial hardship, it's also important to take care of how we treat each other. Below, read on for expert tips for dealing with money woes while you're in a relationship.
Relationship Tips for Handling Financial Hardships
When short-term unemployment turns into long-term unemployment or unemployment benefits run out for example, in floods panic, guilt, blame, and helplessness. "People under stress often cease to notice and acknowledge the helpful things their partners or children do, responding only to the irritating ones," Stephanie Coontz, author of multiple books on American marriage and families, once wrote.
Instead of playing the blame game in this situation, recognize that there are ways to cope with the stress coming between the two of you, like remembering your shared values. "Hard times also force hard discussions—and sometimes that builds more intimacy and resilience," said sociologist and author Pepper Schwartz. "Couples often don’t talk enough about deeply held values, feelings about sacrifice, the primacy of the relationship over work, parenting, etc. This is especially true about money: Figuring out how to budget and how much they need to be 'happy.'" Schwartz goes on to recommend honesty and compassion with one another.
Talk it Out
Of course, there are practical things to consider. During tough financial discussions, share your concerns and expectations with each other and the financial decisions the two of you have made. Share what you are willing to do and what is just not going to happen. For example, are you willing to relocate to a more affordable neighborhood, or downsize to a smaller residence? How open would you be to taking a job you wouldn't have considered a year ago, or going back to school to change your career? And while hard times are tough, writes Schwartz, they also force hard decisions that may build more intimacy and resilience.
If communication is the key to financial intimacy, sometimes couples refuse to or are hesitant to talk about money in the first place, yet it is the only way to get to the heart of any financial tensions and bring your priorities as a couple into alignment. Individuals have different relationships to money and think about money in different ways. For example, according to financial advisors at Stash Wealth, couples may be mismatched in money priorities (one might be a saver, and the other, a major spender), the perception of who actually has their financial business together, or couples are wildly unrealistic about what they can afford. Help move things forward by taking the time to have that discussion.
Stuck on where to begin? A good place to begin a money conversation include prompts like, "What is your saving philosophy?" or, "How should we split the bills?" and, "Do you have student loan debt, and if so, how are you dealing with it?" Regarding your wish list, talk about what you and your partner's dream house, car, or vacation (whatever you've been pining for) really means, writes Stash Wealth experts. Is it something you or your significant other truly needs, or wants? Is the desire for something coming from a place of wanting to show it off as a status or wealth symbol? These questions might sound judgy, but the point here is to aim for clarity in your conversations. “You don’t want to be blindsided later,” said financial planner Damian Dunn.
Basic Budgeting Advice to Implement ASAP
Don't let your pride or ego stop you from getting the help you and your family need to get back on your feet. Call 211 for information about available financial assistance services in your area. You may be eligible for help with food, child care, medical care, paying for your utilities, and more. If you are behind on your bills or know you will have a gap in income, learn your legal rights concerning your debts, and talk with your creditors about your options. Financial experts also advise being smart about how you use your credit card, including paying off your monthly balance in full to avoid paying interest, which accumulates daily.
These Sneaky Scenarios Could Also Strain Your Relationship
In other situations, constant arguments over money may not, in truth, be about money at all. "Instead, the money fights are a byproduct of relationship neglect," said William Harley, a Ph.D. and author of His Needs, Her Needs, and adds that money is instead used as a weapon. For example, one partner will use the other's spending as ammunition only to bring it up in the heat of an argument. Or, one individual will spend beyond the couple's budget as a means of getting even. On the other hand, couples can run into real financial trouble when they are blinded by love, and end up spending way beyond their budget. Think: splurging on expensive gifts and bucket-list vacations until reality hits and they eventually run out of money. Then the fighting begins, Harley said. A few solutions might include couples counseling, or hiring a financial planner who can guide you through budgeting, financial goal-setting, and getting out of debt. According to Harley, "When you fix the root cause, the subsequent problems like money improve as well."