While money might not buy you happiness it certainly has the power to affect it – money filters through every aspect of our lives and impacts our physical and mental health, as well as our relationships. Research has found that money problems are the leading cause of stress in Australia, with a recent report by National Australia Bank finding that consumer anxiety over their finances has risen to its highest level in over three years.
It is not uncommon during times of financial stress to experience relationship problems as well. According to Relationships Australia, seventy per cent of couples reported that money causes tension in their relationships, with disagreements over money found to be a stronger predictor of divorce than other causes of marital disagreement.
So if financial stress is affecting your relationship, here are 5 simple things you can do to tackle it:
Make time to talk about it
All too often, important money conversations take place in passing and usually at the worst possible time. Like when you are busy ushering the kids out the door for school or you have just come home at the end of a long day.
When it comes to having productive conversations, timing is everything. So try to set aside some time on a regular basis for the two of you to go over your finances together. Talk about what it is that is worrying you the most and why, and what it is you need in order to feel more at ease. Be respectful of one another, try not to interrupt and avoid yelling and name calling. If you catch the conversation getting heated – call a time out and revisit the conversation once you have both calmed down.
Avoid the blame game
It is a common response to any difficult situation to blame either yourself or your partner for the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, anger and blame only leave us feeling victimised and powerless, when what we need to do is get into a more positive, empowered and solution focused mindset. In order to improve both your finances and your relationship it is important that you work together as a team and support one another, especially when times are tough. The first step to doing so is to avoid the blame game and forgive yourself and your spouse for past mistakes.
Get on the same page
It can be really easy for couples to start living in isolation of one another, despite living under the same roof. Separate finances, separate schedules, separate goals, can all contribute to creating a greater divide between you as time goes on. A simple way to get back on the same page is to set some joint goals. Since the odds of achieving your goals are far greater when they are meaningful, a great exercise to do together as a couple is to each write down all the things you value most in life and then sit down and compare notes. Take notice of what values you have in common and circle them. Once you have identified those, try to set one common lifestyle goal that you can work toward, that aligns with both of your values.
Now that you have found some common ground, it is time to put together an action plan. Start off by conducting a review of your cashflow for the past three months – take note of how much is coming in, and how much is going out and where. Make sure to factor in all of your bank accounts, loans and credit cards, regardless of whether or not they are held jointly. Next, brainstorm what you can do to make room in your cashflow for achieving your goals and removing the biggest stressors. For example, if discretionary (over)spending is a cause of friction, a simple fix can be to allocate an equal spending allowance for each of you.
You may find that some problems are beyond your knowledge or abilities to solve. And that’s ok. Remember that reaching out for support is not a sign of weakness, but in fact a sign of strength and resourcefulness. If you are struggling with bills and debt a good starting point can be to have a chat to a financial counsellor (1800 007 007) – it is a free and confidential service available to everyone.