Many of us are uncomfortable at talking too much about money. It can feel unseemly, a little vulgar to be too heavily interested in what things cost, how much someone’s paid for something and certainly not what they earn.
We may discuss something relatively impersonal, like how much we pay our cleaner or decorator, but probing too deeply into other, more personal expenses can seem invasive, an intrusion into the other person’s privacy. In some cultures it’s acceptable to openly discuss money and use it use as a benchmark to measure one’s own aspirations and success. Knowing how someone else is faring can spur them on to try harder and is a good way to plan targets.
But many of us are so uneasy about discussing money that we’d rather pay than send something faulty or unsuitable back or complain. We’d rather spare ourselves the embarrassment of making a fuss, often feeling that the financial cost pales into insignificance compared to the stress involved.
In fact, many people prefer to discuss their relationships, sex lives or medical conditions than share information about their finances.
So, when is a good time to talk about money?
When we first meet someone and start dating, we may not pay much attention to the other person’s financial situation. We’re attracted to them, so the initial chemistry can mean that we’re happy to go along with whatever they suggest. We’re enjoying being together and may not mind being the one who mostly pays, or who compromises and agrees to do things that don’t always suit.
We perhaps want to be seen as easy-going and so choose not to suggest expensive options and instead be relaxed about any choices. There may be no compelling reasons to discuss our income or financial obligations, as we enjoy the carefree approach that our relationship brings.
But as the relationship develops into something more serious financial information can become appropriate to share. Money oils the wheels of us doing the things we want and need to do, from where we choose to live, to funding our overheads, determining the direction of our children’s education as well as calculating how much disposable income there is and the ways we’d like to spend it.
As a relationship gains pace and a couple decide to live together, start making joint purchases, plans for the future, booking holidays, the role of money in the relationship becomes more relevant. How does making expensive purchases work? Does it require both people to agree if only one is going to benefit? What about joint accounts, if one person likes to spend money and the other is more frugal?
Some people have a relaxed approach to money and are okay about their partner’s financial excesses. Indeed, some couple’s attitude to spending is that the generous partner is happy to be indulgent and encourages their partner to have nice things. It’s an arrangement that suits both.
Also, don’t forget, how we start out in a relationship may evolve over time. A couple may initially be unsure about the direction they want their career to take or if and when they want children. Their goals and aspirations may change after they’ve had children or are spending long hours at work.
Establishing good channels of communication is crucial in maintaining mutual support and understanding in a relationship. Life brings experiences that cause us to adapt and grow. What seemed exciting and reasonable in the early days may feel far more challenging and stressful a few years later. Talking and discussing what’s happening and how both feel on a regular basis gives an ongoing insight into what they’re going through and how it’s affecting them.
Priorities can change if one loses their joy and satisfaction in their career. What used to motivate us to succeed career-wise may become less appealing or even pointless after a while. Money, status, possessions, ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ may gradually lose their charm if we start to find fulfilment in other areas of life, like volunteering, working for charity, spending less time at work and more time pursuing hobbies and interests.
Some people are keen to work for themselves. Even though it may mean that they may earn less and work longer, more anti-social hours, the allure of becoming one’s own boss can be appealing. Others may want to be with their children when they’re young, watch them grow, witness their landmark moments. Or there may be elderly relatives who need ongoing care and this precious time is valued.
Joint financial planning for the future is an exercise many people don’t consider during their early years together, but it’s important, especially if children form part of the picture and need to be budgeted for. Life insurance, critical illness cover, wills and pensions are all serious topics, designed to protect both you and the important people in your life, especially if an emergency situation should arise.
Being comfortable with your levels of spending, thoughtful about the way you shop, especially for important items, regularly setting aside time to talk with your partner, so that you both have a clear enough understanding of your joint finances, these are ways for both of you to be informed, independent and adult about your relationship and particularly in regard to your relationship with money.
Susan Leigh, South Manchester Counsellor & Hypnotherapist www.lifestyletherapy.net