How couples can stop arguing about money

Couples should be upfront about spending habits once their relationship gets serious. That doesn’t mean that they have to forsake their independence says Grainne McGuinness but it means when times are tough, they will be more united

How couples can stop arguing about money

ARE YOU and your other half honest with each other about money? Do you both know how much the other earns, and have a good idea of their spending?

In a survey of 1,051 couples by US company Fidelity Investments, 72% of respondents said they communicated exceptionally or very well when it came to money. But 43% couldn’t accurately say how much their partner earned. One in ten got it wrong by a staggering $25,000 (€22,500) or more.

With the majority of couples settling down later in life, men and women are used to having their own income and answering to no-one about their spending. That can be a hard habit to break. Even couples who are cohabiting or married may not tell each other chapter and verse. And while things remain rosy financially, there’s no problem. But when things turn tough, spending is brought into sharp focus, and jokey tuts can turn into bitter words.

If you are about to make a commitment to your partner, be it moving in together or marriage, here’s what you can do to ensure money does not become a stumbling block:

ACCORD, the Catholic Marriage Care Service, believe the best way to avoid conflict around finances is to address issues before getting serious:

Discuss financial histories

If there are student loans, credit card bills or other debts outstanding, it is only fair the other party be aware of that. Openness about how you made past money decisions also gives an indication of future patterns.

Make an informed decision about whether to keep your finances separate or pool them

If you are both working you may choose to keep your own accounts. If so, are you going to have a joint account for household expenses, or will each take care of different bills? It’s important to make deliberate decisions here. Resentment builds up if one partner feels they are paying more than a fair share.

Know what type of spender you are

Do you budget and stick to it, or wing it and spend as you go? It is important to understand your spending patterns. Many fights aren’t caused by lack of money, but by different worldviews colliding. Think about how you were raised to view money; how your parents made decisions. Like many behaviours, what we learned about money growing up is deeply ingrained. If your partner knows a different way, you need to compromise.

Take an online quiz to identify what spending type you are

Moneyharmony.com and themoneycouple.com have quizzes which will help you identify how you spend. Use these to start a discussion around spending in a lighthearted, non-confrontational way.

And yes, money talk may seem unromantic to a young couple in love, but frank discussions upfront may avoid serious problems later on.

According to Michael Culloty, spokesperson for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), money is a problem for many, with secrets and lies only exacerbating the problems.

“Where there is a lack of openness and honesty (around money) there’s often a lack of openness and honesty in the relationship per se,” he said. “That can cause a lot of difficulties and lead to break-up of relationships.”

ACCORD also see money as a major cause of problems. In 2014 approximately 66% of couples contacting them for assistance rated finance as a problem in their relationship, with 38% describing it as a significant issue.

Mary Johnston, a specialist in counselling with ACCORD, said a lot of these problems were due to a genuine lack of money, but more were not.

“Sometimes there’s a huge call on money that people just don’t have, but then there’s bad management,” she explained. “If you have two spendthrifts, their finances are going to be under strain.”

If you are already in a longterm relationship and money is causing problems, you can still change long-standing behaviours and learn to work together.

Talk about it

Both MABS and ACCORD emphasise the importance of communication, both with each other and with creditors. Nothing gets fixed by ignoring it, so sit down and take an honest look at your situation.

Unite to deal with the issues

If you have been fighting then you will be entrenched in your position and view your partner as the enemy. Replace that with a new mindset. ACCORD suggest: “Embrace a team spirit, rather than focus on your interests alone. Seeing you and your partner as a team will help to bring you both closer”.

Be honest with each other about the extent of problems, even if you are keeping secrets to try and protect your partner

MABS see this particularly with men who are the main breadwinners and take care of the finances.

“The male doesn’t want to worry the family, so there are incidences whereby the spouse wouldn’t see the depth of the difficulty until it was very late in the process” Culloty said.

“The husband will try and hide financial problems as much as possible from his wife and from the family generally.”

Bottom line: Your partner cannot help you if they don’t know the truth. Trust one another and you will get relief from deception and their support in finding a way out.

If you feel you could benefit from assistance from MABS, contact them on their helpline at 0761-072000 or online at mabs.ie. If you would like to speak to ACCORD, you can find listings for their offices nationwide at accord.ie

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