Living in financial harmony together is a lot about trust, fairness and flexibility around expectations. For most it presents challenges, especially when there is debt involved. I have met hundreds of client couples swamped in chronic debt and I consider it to be one of the most damaging daily stressors in a relationship. Problem debt is always there in the background, colouring everything. I started to notice that when meeting individuals and couples who had big mortgage arrears problems, there was a high percentage of broken relationships, many that were just hanging on by a thread.
Surveys show that it is not the frequency of conflict over money that is damaging, but the intensity of it. It would be an understatement to say that you would argue more intensely about money than you would about who does the washing up! But why are arguments over money more damaging?
Four good reasons:
- It is always there in the background. It is a constant that cannot be ignored.
- Money decisions come up frequently, often daily and this gives no respite to couples facing difficult financial times. There is a constant revisiting of the problem as decisions must be made that impact the relationship. It is like scratching a wound that won’t heal.
- Emotions and expectations exist beneath the surface and are hidden or obscured. Many are neither spoken about nor acknowledged.
- Money problems can’t be solved immediately as it is often long-term, drawn out solutions that are needed. This is exhausting for people.
Money has attached to it many emotions; shame, guilt, anger, fear; and these in turn are stoked by issues of trust, power, fairness and expectations on what “should” happen with domestic finances.
Here are some suggestions on how to deal with any money conflict and be more harmonious:
- Quantify the problem. If you argue on issues such as spending the first step is to quantify what is happening. Record spending for a month, divide annual expenditure to monthly figures so you can get a numerical picture of what is happening. Those who have ever been in mortgage arrears in this country dread the bank sending another “Standard Financial Statement” to record monthly budgets. Its painful but necessary. Many are amazed at how and where they spend money by completing these records and they can then put some perspective on the issues.
- Look at the other side of the coin. Try to see how your partner is feeling and thinking. Remember everyone has different values and beliefs about money, debt, earning, spending. Is yours more important? In general, when it comes to money arguments both interests are the same but viewed in a different way or maybe voiced in a different way. The end goal is mostly the same but current positions may differ.
- Separate the people from the problem. In sport, they say, “play the ball, not the man” and this sums it up nicely. Be tough on the problem, not the person. You are on the same side and it is not helpful to undermine or tear down the other’s faults. Find out what needs to be done, then address it as a team, maybe even breaking up tasks between you.
- Be flexible but plan with concrete steps to move forward towards a solution. Write them down. Think of conversations as a business meeting where each agrees and commits to actions. Schedule another time to discuss the progress.
- Get to know your debt. How much, to whom and terms and conditions of the debt need to be on the tip of your fingers. Unless the financial picture is clear there will not be any basis for agreement. If the numbers are known, they can support joint decisions.
- Get help if you need it. “I should have done this a long time ago!” is what I hear a lot. Help is available from advisors, coaches, banks, apps, online calculators, organisations. There is a lot out there if you look for it. Clients say to me that the hardest step they take is to decide to get help. It becomes easier after this initial step.
Life is too short to let these things fester and deteriorate. Take a small step to be more open about money and address any dark financial clouds on the horizon, or indeed right under your nose.
If you feel you would like to discuss money goals, behaviour or changes you would like to make, call me in confidence for a chat about how I can help. [email protected] or +353-871376240. I meet with clients nationwide over skype/zoom and in person in Dublin/Leinster.