Money and Relationships: The Awkward Conversation
Words / Liz McLardy
Money seems more likely to ignite our lives with fights, fears and shame than to spark joy. But money shouldn’t be a cause of stress.
In terms of relationships, money cannot buy a happy one. But, as a resource, it can enable you to use your talents to make a difference and to focus on the things you and your partner really care about. It can help you to build a future that will bring meaning and fulfilment into your lives. Income and love are closely connected, although we may try to trick ourselves into thinking otherwise.
Money is never just about money
The emotional stress often manifests in the physical body as headaches, digestive problems and high blood pressure. It’s a complicated topic. It touches every aspect of our lives. It can make you question your self-worth, fuel judgement and make you feel like you are not enough and you don’t have enough. Arguments about money are usually cries out for recognition of deeper unmet needs and less about the numbers. You may feel ashamed about your spending behaviour, suffer in the depths of debt or just get caught in a place of struggle with how you relate to income. This can make you feel ashamed and embarrassed. These uncomfortable feelings you have toward money — and which many of us share — are a great opportunity to get self-curious and to deepen your understanding of yourself and your partner.
Cash is a gateway to self-awareness
Bari Tessler is a successful financial therapist and author of The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, which offers an approach that creates the real possibility of “money healing”. She encourages us to view spending as a gateway to self-awareness and as a training ground for compassion, confidence and self-worth. Everyone has fears, challenges and frustrations about their income. The interesting fact is that money stress actually has very little to do with the dollars and cents and more to do with your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
As a starting exercise, consider what your current spending behaviour is saying about you. When you spend like there is no tomorrow, you are sending that same message to yourself and to your partner. When you save, no matter how small, you communicate that you are investing in your future and want to care for and protect it.
Take control of your co-financial wellbeing
There is no denying that income and wellbeing are linked. It’s less to do with how much you earn, however, and more to do with how financially in control you feel. Professor Bob Cummins from Deakin University, author of the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, has found that financial stress has similar effects on the body to physical torture. But he identifies that it’s the feeling of being in control of your money that will release you from this stress. Financial control, strong personal relationships and a sense of purpose are what Cummins believes are the essence of wellbeing. His “golden triangle of happiness” clearly indicates that by sharing your thoughts, secrets, hopes, dreams and fears about money with your partner and choosing to take control of how you earn, spend, save, share and invest your cash, you will be well on your way to boosting your wellbeing.
Together, you can choose to engage with money in a healthier and more meaningful way. You can embrace your differences and allow your vulnerabilities and plans for the future to deepen the loving connection you share.
Be loving, practical & sacred
There are some really practical things you can do to create a loving, practical and sacred space to talk about money with your partner. Here is a checklist to consider when scheduling your first money date:
Be loving –
- Listen with compassion and suspend judgement
- Have a shared outlook towards managing your income
- Share your dreams, beliefs and behaviours.
- Talk about your private money histories
- Be open-minded
Be practical –
- Know what you own and owe
- Set spending boundaries
- Tackle challenges with a safety net fund and commit to long-term savings
- Explore helpful co-money management techniques (for example, joint bank accounts, cash budgeting to stick to spending limits and choosing debit cards instead of credit cards)
- Balance your saving/spending tendencies
Be sacred –
- Discuss how to earn, spend, save, share and invest in a way that is meaningful to you both
- Bring a sense of adventure to your money conversations
- Create a harmonising environment for your money dates with candles, aromatherapy oils, music and a treat
Income can seem like a complicated topic but doesn’t need to be.