The M-word: taking the anxiety and stress out of talking money with your partner

Let’s be honest: talking about money just isn’t a very British thing to do. That shouldn’t stop us. Our money and mental health worries are often linked. According to leading mental health charity Mind, poor mental health can make managing our money even harder, while worrying about money can make our mental health worse.

Studies have shown that over a fifth of us are stressed by our financial situation, with numbers rising to over a third of us aged 18 to 34. With over 70% of us have spent time worrying about our finances while at work, when it comes to money, our stress and anxiety around the subject can seep into just about every aspect of our lives.

Whether you are just starting a new relationship or have been together for a while, money is bound to come up. Maybe you’re enjoying your dates but are a little bit strapped for cash, splitting the bill is still putting a strain on your wallet, or you’d like to get out and do more together but money is a little tight; watching your budget is totally normal (and a healthy way to deal with your finances).

What happens though, when one of you earns significantly more than the other? What do you do when your partner earns less than you, and going halfsies isn’t always affordable?

One study found over half of couples in marriages they considered ‘great’ spoke weekly about their finances, compared to just 29% of couples who considered their marriage to be just ok or in crisis.

A whopping 94% of couples in a healthy marriage admitted discussing their money dreams together – over double the number of those who considered their relationship to be ok or experiencing problems.

Money may not be able to buy happiness, but money troubles and avoiding tough conversations can have a much bigger impact than we might realise.

We’ve put together some tips on how to approach the situation, and find ways to talk about and handle money that work for you. Based on our own experiences in relationships where one partner earns significantly more than the other, these are just a few of the ways that can help you get through that awkward conversation with as little stress as possible.

Be honest

If things are adding up too much, there are other cheap or free ways to spend time together without splashing out. The last thing you want to do is to create money worries by overspending or feeling like you need to keep up. A relationship isn’t a competition for who can spend the most, buy the more expensive gift, or sweep the other off of their feet. Romance and healthy relationships don’t have be be built solely on grand gestures. It’s the little things that count.

Start talking. Being open and honest can be the best way for you both to get things off your chest, and to get any worries out in the open. You never know – they may have similar concerns but may not have been sure how to broach the subject.

Be open

Once you have gotten past the initial puppy love phase and things are beginning to look serious, it might be time to be open and honest. Whether your monthly bank balance makes you wince or gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Our salaries aren’t linked to effort or our worth as individuals; the gender pay gap can be real, while salary differences between different industries can be unreal.

A teacher is never going to earn as much as someone working in the tech industry, while someone in the creative industry can sit on very different ends of the scale depending on if they go freelance, work for a big agency, or slog it out on their own trying to make it big as a writer.  If someone looks down on you for your salary, or if they do the opposite and seem judgemental or on edge about your perceived success, that’s on them, not on you.

Be ready to make compromises

Finding a compromise that works for you both is key. If you each have very different budgets but you’re set on keeping things 50/50, look at what you both enjoy doing that really matters and reserve your spending around these things (or if you can find free things even better!). Spending time together doesn’t have to cost money.

If there’s something one of you would rather keep doing that the other can’t afford, look at ways in which things can still even out – or consider if things need to even out monetarily. Being equal partners doesn’t have to mean paying everything equally. There are other ways you can share the load.

Keep an open mind…

Having more money doesn’t necessarily mean spending more. Just because you earn different salaries, doesn’t mean the partner earning less can’t still be the big (or over) spender in your relationship. Try sitting down and figuring out separately what you can each realistically afford on dates and shared activities.

Why not try…

Create your own separate lists of date ideas, things you enjoy doing, and things you think you may enjoy trying together. Share these and have a look through each of your lists together. 

Try to come up with a joint list of ideas that will allow you to still have fun together without needing to worry about the cost.

…and an eye on the future

Be prepared to take talks further if you’re looking to take the next step. Whether you’re thinking of moving in together or are looking to get married, further talk of your separate (and potentially joint) finances will come up down the line. 

By having these initial conversations and becoming more comfortable talking candidly about money (and the associated stresses and worries) you are opening the way for an easier time later. Well, a more comfortable conversation at least.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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