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Money Can’t Buy Me Love

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Money Can’t Buy Me Love

If you and your partner argue about money, you are in good company.  Recent research by Relate shows that 55% of people rank money worries in the top three strains on a relationship [1].  The average couple has 39 arguments about money each year [2]. Compared to disagreements about other things, relationship conflicts about money can be more pervasive, problematic and recurrent, and may remained unresolved, despite more attempts at problem solving [3]. Sound familiar?

Talking about money can feel confrontational, and some of us will go to great lengths to avoid it. Back in the old days, sailors would sometimes opt to receive their allowances in cash from the ship’s office so that they could have money to spend without having to account for it back home. You could go out for a monster run ashore, and those at home would not see anything on a credit card bill. No itemised statement showing a payment to {insert name of lap-dancing club} to give the game away. On the home front, people also have strategies for concealing spending. Only this week, I found myself paying in cash for a Costa coffee. I didn’t want my partner to see it on my statement, not because he would care but because I want him to think I don’t fritter our money away (even if I do, sometimes).

Nearly one in seven married people in the UK has a ‘secret stash’ of money that their partner doesn’t know about [4] and many of these people see their stash as an ‘escape fund’ in case things go wrong with the relationship. Interestingly, most of the people who keep an ‘escape fund’ are men. Yes, really.

Finding out this fact made me wonder if my partner is one of those people. And whether I should start an ‘escape fund’ of my own. And how much I would need. And what I would be wearing when I got on the train. And then luckily common sense kicked in and I remembered that I actually like my partner. Also if I wasn’t at home, no one would feed the cat and the kids would get scurvy. Plus if I wait for a bit the Navy is bound to send my partner away somewhere anyway, so no need to escape. Bonus.

So why is money such a loaded subject for so many of us? We develop our beliefs and feelings about money at an early stage in our lives. We may not even be consciously aware of the values and attitudes we have picked up along the way. Our family backgrounds and experiences have a big part to play, and it is hardly surprising that we don’t always share the same beliefs and feelings as our partner. This is especially the case given that we tend not to talk about our views about money at an early stage in a new relationship. It is seen as unromantic. We don’t want to talk about it, along with other real-life things like haemorrhoids and whether your partner secretly fancies your sister. While we may talk about work ambitions, children, where we would like to live and countless other things, money tends to take a back seat.

Hiding our true financial status from a partner may also be a way to control the power in a relationship. It can be a sign that it is time to evaluate the relationship and the reasons why it might be necessary to keep financial secrets. Where either partner has ‘money baggage’ that is kept secret, it can undermine the foundations of a relationship, particularly when it is likely to have an impact on the other person.

The good news is that breaking the taboo around talking about money can really help to build your relationship and to improve your ability to work as a team. It is never too late to have a conversation about money. It can help to think critically and without judgement about the attitudes you each learned in childhood. In my family, growing up, there was never enough money to pay for the basics. This was a constant source of worry to us as children. To me as an adult, managing our finances feels scary and complicated, and I have had to force myself to get a grip. One of the perks of having a husband who has served away from home a lot is that I have had no choice! My husband’s family, on the other hand, although not affluent, treated money less as a scary ogre and more as a tool. Consequently he is much less inclined to stick his head in the sand. He plans ahead. He has Microsoft blooming Money for goodness’ sake. He keeps track of his spending on it. So, now, unbelievably, do I. When we met, this level of anal retentiveness was unthinkable to me. Now that we have two teenagers in the house who might want to go to university at some point, it actually seems kind of sexy. Although don’t tell my husband I said that; it will only raise expectations.

When we keep in mind our different experiences, it becomes easier to support each other and talk openly about how we want to handle our finances. Over the years, as our working circumstances have changed with raising children, we have had numerous discussions (well, arguments, if I’m honest) about fairness and keeping the balance of power in relationship around our shifting incomes and responsibilities. We haven’t always got it right, and sometimes this has resulted in resentment. It’s so important to keep communication about money open and honest, even if it is difficult. Relate has some great advice on its website about how to talk constructively about money.

If you’re experiencing regular problems with money and it’s affecting your relationship, you can talk to a Relate counsellor. Don’t wait until it becomes a bigger problem. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) is working in partnership with Relate to offer Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel (serving and former) and their families free access to relationship counselling services. This can either be face to-Face, by telephone, webcam, or live chat – whichever way suits you best – even if you are assigned overseas. Call the dedicated RNRMC phone line 01302 380279 to book.

[1] Relate, Relationships Scotland & Marriage Care (2015), The Way We Are Now: The state of the UK’s relationships.

[2] The Money Advice Service (2015), UK couples’ financial secrets revealed.

[3] Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M. and Goeke-Morey, M. C. (2009), For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home. Family Relations, 58: 91–103.

[4] The Money Advice Service (2015), UK couples’ financial secrets revealed.