OPINION: Fudging around money issue can turn sweetest relationships sour
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In 2022, it’s no longer considered taboo to talk about religion, sex or politics, but money is a different matter.
Most of us avoid discussing it, because we don’t want to seem mean, or critical.
But not talking about financial problems doesn’t magic them away. Quite the reverse – and they often cause rifts among families and friends and are a common cause of divorce.
People disagree about:
- Joint accounts versus individual ones
- Attitudes to holiday spending
- Levels of debt
- Debit/credit card usage
- Supporting families from previous marriages
- Division of departed parents’ assets and belongings
The trouble is that money is a highly emotional issue. And it’s very easy to feel misunderstood or insecure or anxious about it.
Let me tell you about Wendy and Susan. They met at an art class last year.
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Wendy’s a widow, and Susan is also single, after a divorce. They became good friends and started spending a great deal of time together.
Not surprisingly, at Christmas, they exchanged gifts. Wendy gave Susan a silk scarf, and Susan gave Wendy some homemade fudge.
Wendy told herself it was lovely to have a gift that her friend had put effort into making. But she had assumed that their financial circumstances were much the same.
So, the difference in their presents to each other was disturbing and though she didn’t want to admit to these feelings, she felt somewhat rejected and unimportant.
Susan, meanwhile, was embarrassed about the scarf. She loved it but knew it must have cost a lot.
So far, she and Wendy had never discussed money. They both owned three-bedroomed houses and dressed similarly. But now Susan realised that her friend must have much more available cash than she had. Her house and state pension were her only assets and she had to budget carefully to get by.
What were they to do?
There are financial crisis points in relationships of all kinds and when they happen, somehow you need to talk about them even if you’ve avoided doing so for 50 years!
For example, if one partner has tended to pay the car and home insurance and utility bills – and may perhaps have been quite private or controlling about it – the other may have no idea who the providers are or how the relevant direct debits are paid. Sometimes people don’t even have joint accounts.
But then the spouse who deals with money may have a stroke or be involved in a car crash. Life can change dramatically in a split second.
Do you know the state of your joint and individual finances? One day you may need to.
Another common scenario is when a couple get together having both had long-term relationships with others. Such individuals have complex demands on their resources and may well have written wills leaving their homes and savings to their offspring. This can be a minefield for a new romance.
Graham and Kate fell for each other after meeting at a jazz club. It was a whirlwind romance, full of laughter and lots of trips away to Paris, Venice and elsewhere.
Before long, Kate moved into Graham’s house, a home he had shared with his late wife, and where his grown-up children popped in regularly. Kate had had various relationships, but no family.
Unfortunately, after a few months, she began to resent Graham’s children and their calls on his time and pocket. And Graham started to feel that everything that kept Kate cheerful depended upon him spending pots of money.
He even wondered if she had targeted him. Certainly, it felt that she liked his bank balance more than him. She became even more demanding and called him mean when he wouldn’t buy her a sportscar.
They parted after two years, very acrimoniously.
Would they still be together if they had talked about finance at the start of their relationship? Possibly not, but maybe they would have parted earlier and with less bitterness.
So how can you have a money conversation?
1. Pick a time and day, at least a week away, when you will speak – this will give you both time to prepare
2. Agree that you will not, initially, talk for more than an hour
3. Come prepared with specific issues and bring bank statements if they help explain your worries
4. Use respectful language. Put your point of view calmly. Try not to criticise the other person but do explain your emotions about the difficulties and differences
Basically, with money problems, talking is the first action you should take rather than the last. It may not save your relationship, but often it can.
To return to Wendy and Susan, they talked, and agreed that their friendship was more important than their differing finances.
Wendy told Susan she was happy to pay for the two of them to go to events and galleries, because it was more fun to do them together. And Susan said that she’d like to contribute by cooking lunches or suppers for them both, which she could afford and would enjoy.
They also agreed a price limit for presents.
The money conversation is tough, no doubt about it. But avoiding it is ultimately tougher and can lead to the rockiest of roads.