Finances can be a source of stress within marriage and relationships. Money related pressures and stress have the potential to lead to arguments, misunderstandings, which in turn can lead to feelings of hurt and resentment. Hurt and resentment can impact negatively on a relationship. Dealing with couple and family finances and money management in an open, honest and fair way can help couples avoid unnecessary conflict.
Are you a spender or a saver?
Awareness and acknowledgment of how each person manages money is important in relationships. Both partners need to honestly acknowledge their own behaviour pattern in terms of money, it's positive and perhaps not so positive aspects. When your salary/paycheque arrives do you focus on paying bills and making your regular payments such as mortgage, loan repayments, household bills etc. or do you focus on what you would like to spend money on, a hobby, social event, holiday, clothes, IT equipment?
Knowing and honestly acknowledging your own pattern and tendencies with money is helpful and can make it easier for couples to talk about how money is managed.
Sometimes individuals find it easy to focus on and talk about their partner’s shortcomings in relation to money and find it difficult to focus on or to acknowledge their own shortcomings with money. If you can objectively and honestly assess your own pattern with money in addition to your partner’s this will help you to have an open, honest, non-defensive and non-blaming discussion about your financial situation. Defensiveness and blaming won’t help you to resolve issues regarding money or any other difficulties you may be experiencing. Such behaviours will only add to the hurt and resentment, make communication difficult and lead to conflict.
Arising from your family patterns and personal tendencies people may have hugely different values relating to finances and ways of managing money. Some people may be extremely careful with money and have a strong desire to save for the future and the unexpected. Others may be more inclined to spend and be less careful and focused on regular payments and provision for the future and a rainy day. Differences don’t have to cause conflict, partners can learn from each other and complement and help each other to achieve a better balance in managing money.
The questions and guidance below (1- 6) may help you to become more aware of your own behaviour pattern with money and to become more conscious and deliberate in the decisions you make, rather than simply acting unconsciously and automatically out of habit.
Some questions you might ask yourself are:
• Do you tend to save or spend?
• Do you delay spending to enable you to make regular payments and put money aside for unexpected events?
• Are you open, honest and transparent with your partner about money matters?
• Are you fair to your partner in how you manage money?
It’s very important to be honest with yourself when asking the above questions.
1. What is your partner’s experience of how you manage money?
Ask your partner how they feel you manage money. Do they find you open, honest, fair and responsible in how you manage money? If they have any concerns about how you deal with money you need to listen carefully to their experience.
It is important not to get defensive. Your partner is telling you about their experience of you in terms of money management.
Having listened to each other you may have heard something about your money management style that you are surprised by and were unaware of up to this point. Remember your partner shared their experience of you in relation to managing money and there may be learning for you in this. It can be difficult to realise that your pattern with money needs to change somewhat. You may be spending too much and not contributing sufficiently to regular joint payments and living costs. You may be overly cautious and anxious about money and you may not be allocating sufficient money for basic recreational needs or personal spending. You may not be fair, open and honest with your partner about money matters. Having listened to your partner it is important to be honest with yourself also.
What changes might you need to make in order to be fair open honest and responsible with money?
2. Address the issues that need to be discussed and worked out in a non-defensive and non-blaming way.
As outlined previously blaming and defensiveness will only ensure that you are unable to hear your partner’s experience and views. It won’t be possible to hear your partner or to assess your own behaviour with money if you are defensive and blaming.
It is important that you approach each discussion about finances and money management in an open honest, listening and receptive way.
Once you are open to listening, non-defensive, non-blaming and receptive to your partner’s experience and viewpoint it can be useful to discuss your financial priorities. Once you have listened to one another and teased things through you can begin to agree, negotiate or compromise on your priorities as a couple.
Once you have agreed your financial priorities you can then discuss how you will both manage the money that is available to you both once the essentials are catered for.
3. Money problems.
If you are experiencing significant problems with money and if your income is not enough to service all your payments and living expenses it is important that you seek professional help with money matters from reputable agencies such as the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and the Credit Union movement, local branches of which can be found by using web searches.
4. Problem behaviours.
If difficulties with money are arising due to one or both of your behaviours such as alcohol use, gambling, drug use, shopping or other habitual non-essential behaviours they will need to be named, addressed and relevant professional help will also be required.
5. Keep communicating and reviewing your financial priorities and money management.
As a couple make a plan to check in regularly with one another on your finances. These checks should happen on an agreed regular basis to help you to discuss how things are working out from both your perspectives and also if anything unexpected has cropped up. This will keep your lines of communication open and your willingness to listen to one another on an ongoing basis should help to ensure problems don’t build up. It can also be useful to agree that you will review how your agreement is working out for both of you in a month or two to see if you are both happy and if each of you has managed to do what was agreed. This will leave the lines of communication open between you and will support you both to be able to review your finances and how you are both managing them on a continuing basis.
Regularly reviewing your income and outgoings will give you the opportunity to make any adjustments needed, to spend more or spend less on discretionary events and items. If spending has been too high at any point, you can make a decision to cut down. If you have been managing payments and living expenses well and there is some disposable income you can discuss and agree on what you might do with it.
If you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage or relationship it can be helpful to seek professional counseling.
ACCORD offers marriage and relationship counseling and marriage preparation courses for couples getting married in the Catholic Church.