Research by the legal firm Stowe Family Law Link opens in a new window has found more than half of couples said their relationship was “already on the rocks” due to rising financial pressures. Issues that are causing tension include not having enough money coming in, problems with paying bills and the struggle to maintain certain lifestyles amid rocketing costs.
No wonder this has led to more relationships breaking down: Stowe Family Law said November was its busiest month on record for divorce enquiries, up 50% Link opens in a new window compared to the year before. But with the average divorce in the UK costing £14,561 Link opens in a new window in legal fees and lifestyle costs, many unhappy couples are finding it too expensive to go their separate ways. Research by the property website Zoopla Link opens in a new window has found a third of homeowning couples have been forced to live together after splitting up for an average of more than a year.
Money has always been a huge source of conflict and stress for couples, with research consistently showing it to be one of the biggest contributors to divorce. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, times are tough, testing even the most loving and secure relationship. But having open and constructive conversations about money can make all the difference, allowing both of you to find solutions and see a way through.
Don’t let the cost of living crisis cost you your relationship. Here are six tips on how to talk to your partner about money.
1. Pick the right time and right place
It’s important to choose your moment wisely. Think about a time that’s convenient for the other person, when they’re likely to be feeling well-rested and calm, as opposed to stressed out and busy. Also, think of somewhere that’s private or at least where you won’t be overheard.
Personally, I’m a massive fan of walking and talking. Getting outside, having a bit of exercise, being in nature, walking next to someone…all this can help to clear your mind and take the sting out of the conversation. The bonus here is that you’re not sat opposite someone interrogating them.
It’s also important to lay the groundwork with the other person and explain in advance that you want to talk about money. This way, you’re not bringing the subject up out of the blue and they can feel mentally prepared for it. Explain why you’d like to talk to them, with the emphasis on how you feel it would build trust between you and strengthen the relationship. Saying this can inspire confidence and help your partner understand you are bringing up the subject from a place of love.
Equally, you need to read the room. Maybe (despite your best efforts) your partner is not in the mood, so they clam up and start getting defensive. At this point, it’s important not to escalate things - give them a bit of time to cool off and return to the subject when they’re feeling calmer and ready to talk.
2. Get the conversation started
If you’re not sure how to start these conversations, you might want to go in softly by mentioning someone you know who is experiencing something similar. You may have seen a news story, watched a TV show or read a book that relates to the issue you want to discuss. Or you could use another trigger, like a bill or an annual statement, to help start the conversation.
Depending on the dynamics of your relationship, the more direct approach might be best. Think about saying something as simple as “I have something I’d like to talk to you about that’s been on my mind, if that’s okay?” or “I’d really love your opinion on this.” You could also start with an open-ended question to gauge how the other person is feeling, such as “how are you feeling about your/our financial situation right now?”
Starting with how you feel about a situation – e.g. “I’m worried about how we’re going to pay the bills, can we have a chat about it?” – can also remove any accusatory edge from the conversation.
3. Stay positive and constructive
You can’t expect to sort everything out in one conversation. But there’s huge value in at least admitting there’s a problem or issues that needs to be addressed, and thinking about how you can start to tackle it together.
Keep the conversation as positive as possible. You want to make the other person feel like they’ve done the right thing by talking to you, that you appreciate their honesty, and you’d like to do it again. This kind of positive reinforcement will pave the way for you to have these chats on a more regular basis.
Conversations are two-way, so make sure the other person is involved and not simply a listener. Try not to interrupt so that you can both contribute.
It’s very easy to go off on tangents, so stay focused. Also, avoid starting sentences with any accusations, such as ‘you’. Instead, try ‘I think’ and ‘I feel’, to help the other person understand where you’re coming from.
4. Focus on solutions
Do your research beforehand so you can suggest helpful things. For instance, you could propose speaking to your energy supplier or mortgage lender if you’re both worried about paying the bills. Or you could discuss switching a credit card onto a 0% balance transfer deal. There may be funds, grants and extra benefits Link opens in a new window available that could really help to alleviate the pressure on you – have a look at Turn2Us Link opens in a new window for more information.
Think about others who could help you, whether that’s a debt charity like National Debtline Link opens in a new window or a relationship counselling service like Relate.org.uk Link opens in a new window. Sometimes, we don’t have all the solutions ourselves, so it’s important to know when to reach out.
5. Be smart when joining up your finances
It’s important to understand what’s involved when you tie up your finances with someone else. For instance, if you take out any financial products together, your partner’s credit file will be connected to yours, and vice versa. That means any debt your partner has taken on could affect your credit score, regardless of your own borrowing behaviour.
If your partner tends to overspend and get into debt, be very careful about signing up for any financial products with them. You could agree to have separate bank accounts and borrowing until your partner has got on top of their debts and improved their credit score.
It’s tempting to offer to help your partner with debt repayments, but unless you both have a clear plan for how the money will be paid back, try to avoid this arrangement – being in debt to a partner can create extra friction you can both do without.
Otherwise, the question of whether you should join up all your finances or not is up to you. Some couples prefer the convenience and transparency of having all their money in one joint account and/or using one joint credit card, but a common middle-way these days is to have one joint account from which you pay all the necessary bills and two separate, private accounts for day-to-day spending. This arrangement works particularly well if you’re both earning your own income because it avoids (or at least reduces) tension over individual spending decisions.
The focus should be on what is practical and sustainable over the long-term. You don’t have to adopt the attitude that “what’s mine is yours” in every respect, and it may be healthy to keep some of your finances separate just in case your relationship doesn’t work out.
6. Hope for the best, plan for the worst
Moving in with someone and/or taking out a joint mortgage does not automatically create solid legal and financial rights in the way that marriage does. Unless you have a clear agreement in place for what will happen in the event of a split, you could find yourself locked in a messy, expensive dispute should the relationship end.
That’s why it’s important to having a legally binding cohabitation agreement in place that covers all eventualities. Issues you need to iron out before you take on a mortgage with someone include whether your partner has any debts, how you’ll cover the bills, how the ownership of the property will be split and who will do what in terms of housework and cooking.
Bringing this up can feel horribly cold when you’re still in the ‘honeymoon’ stage of a relationship and excited about starting a new chapter of your lives together. However, if you emphasise that you want to do this to protect your relationship whatever happens, so you can still love and support one another even if things don’t work out, it should come across as a reasonable, sensible step to take.
So those are my top tips on how to talk to your partner about money during the cost of living crisis - find a good time and place, get things off on the right foot, stay calm, look for positive solutions and don't be afraid to clarify issues like how much to join up your finances and what should happen if you split up. Chatting about money may not feel romantic but done the right way, it could well save your relationship.
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