How to support couples to talk about money

Huw Thomas, director of policy, information and communications at Relate, reports on For Love and Money, the Talk Money Week event hosted by The Money Advice Service (MAS), the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) and Relate to explore the links between relationships and money.

Watch the debate about how the money guidance, relationship support, and financial advice and planning sectors can support couples to talk about money.

Money is the top reason for breakups

Most couple relationships have their ups and downs, but what issue is most likely to cause an argument? A lot of people would say it’s the daily little niggles like not doing a fair share of the house work, or perhaps your significant other has sneakily watched the last episode of that box set you were looking forward to watching together. Others might say that fancying other people, or having an affair, is the thing most likely to cause a problem.  But according to Relate’s research, the number one strain on relationships is money worries.

Our Happy Families report in 2016 found that money was the top relationship strain for parents with a child under 19, with 41% stating this (compared to 26% without children under 19). Our It Takes Two research in 2017 also found that money was the top strain on relationships, with over a quarter (26%) of respondents saying this.

Problem debt linked to relationship strain

We know too that the vicious circle of problem debt and relationship distress is a challenge for many people. Our In Too Deep report found that one in four people who have been in debt say that it had a negative effect on their relationship, and 10% of people have experienced a relationship breakdown due, at least in part, to debt.

How financial advice, money guidance and relationship support sectors can work together

In light of the research, it was great for Relate to be involved in Talk Money Week in November 2018. We took part in the For Love and Money debate with MAS and the CISI. Academics, financial planners and relationship counsellors took an in-depth look at the issues affecting our attitudes to money, and how those working in both financial planning and relationship support can better help people to negotiate this often-tricky area.

Explore influences from families of origin

We heard how attitudes to money are formed at an early age, and how patterns of behaviour, both positive and negative, can reverberate throughout our lives and our relationships. At Relate, our counsellors will often take time to understand the family that both people in a couple grew up in, and how this might affect their relationships now. If someone came from a home where being careful with money and saving for that rainy day was the norm, then this might trigger conflict with a partner who comes from a more ‘you only live once’ background.

Ask what money means

We can easily project unspoken meanings onto money and associate these with feelings of power, independence, freedom and control.  This can be a real challenge for couples. Check out this insight into the emotional meanings of money from Relate.

Signpost to information

A few clear themes emerged from the debate: There was unanimous support for better information and education, with agreement that forthcoming changes to the relationships and sex education curriculum in schools are a good opportunity to start helping people to talk about money from an early age.

There was also clearly an appetite for greater information sharing and collaboration across the money advice, financial planning and relationship support sectors.

The cycle of problem debt, unstable finances and relationship breakdown is not inevitable and by working together we can help more people to navigate these complex challenges. (Of course, some additional funding for the charitable organisations working in this arena would go a long way.)

Next steps

Support your clients to start a conversation using MAS guides: Talking to your partner about money and How to talk to your children about money.

Learn more about how organisations are working together to deliver the Financial Capability Strategy for the UK, and help people make the most of their money.

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