The famous sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”, makes no mention of money. But relationship experts know it should be a subject at the top of every couples’ list.
In this digital age, relationships often begin based on what the other person looks like – think online dating sites and apps such as Tinder but when it comes to long-term enduring love, much more is required. A great set of abs or pretty face is not going to pay the bills or support your family if you die or suffer an accident.
Relationship expert Katia Loisel says money is one of those often overlooked aspects of a relationship that has enormous influence.
“Unfortunately when we’re choosing Mr or Ms Right most of us are so focused on falling in love that we don’t think twice about whether we’re financially compatible,” she says.
“We come into a relationship with our own upbringing, experience, expectations and values and how we view money can be quite different to how our partner does. Many couples skirt around financial discussions and that can cause problems down the track.”
Having an agreed-on budget, being well insured so you’re financially protected from the unexpected, and having a vision for your financial future, are all things that create openness, health and peace in relationships.
ANZ argues that such planning is also an expression of love. Especially for the prime income-earner to make sure their partner and family are covered in the event they cannot provide for them.
“It’s a challenge to engage with people about insurance as the topic can be confronting,” says ANZ Wealth financial planning general manager Shez Ford. “But people need to understand insurance is a way to recognise the love and care partners have for their family.”
A survey from Relationships Australia found 85 per cent of respondents thought financial problems were likely to push couples apart.
Loisel says this is because when there are issues with money it can trickle down to other areas.
“It’s not just about how much you have or how much you spend, it’s about your values, your beliefs and your self worth,” she says. “Money is one of the main reasons couples argue, so sorting out your financial roles and responsibilities and getting your admin in place is important.”
Sharing the load
Loisel identifies some of the key sources of friction around money include breaches of financial trust such as:
- hiding debts
- buying big-ticket items without consulting your partner
- irresponsible financial behaviour that damages your partner’s credit rating.
“A power imbalance where one partner feels the need to control all of the finances can also break a relationship,” Loisel says.
But while it makes sense on paper to discuss finances, some people prefer to be less involved. For some, Loisel says, finances can bring up negative emotions or makes them feel overwhelmed.
“People have different reasons for not wanting to talk about money. And it can cause conflict if one partner is less engaged. But if this is the case, make sure they are still across the basics. Make sure they know where the accounts are and that they’re involved in the big decisions. And these discussions need to be had early – not when you’ve had three kids.”
A money guide to relationship stages
To help couples talk about their finances, Loisel (pictured) has developed a guide based on the different stages of a relationship: honeymoon, nesting and lifelong.
This is the early stage, where you are getting to know your partner. You haven’t spoken much about finances but as the level of intimacy increases you should begin to discuss your spending style, such as what money means to you. This will help avoid future conflict and address any potential red flags.
This is when ‘I’ becomes ‘we’. You are deeply in love, have moved in together, and are maybe planning a family. This is the commitment phase and often the time when finances are pooled, which can bring financial differences to a head. Setting a budget and mutual financial goals is important at this time. Other key issues include how the financial roles will be split, for example, who will look after the children and who will continue to work.
It’s also the point when couples first consider life insurance and there are a number of considerations. “You need to look at your debts and ask what happens if you’re unable to work,” Ford says. “For example, how do you make the mortgage payment? You also need to have a conversation about the life you want your family to have and how you can make sure it happens if you pass away or are unable to work.”
This is when you know you are in the relationship for the long-term and while it might seem like a long way away, it is the time to start talking about retirement plans and investments.
Loisel says looking out for your partner’s long-term needs and financial security reduces stress and shows that you are caring for them even after you’re gone.
“The biggest fear we have is what may happen to our partner or children if we’re not around or can’t provide for them, she says. “Insurance alleviates some of that fear. It also lets your partner know that you’re thinking of them for the long term. This is what makes insurance such a romantic gesture.”