Talking finance when you’re high on love with a new partner is perhaps one of the biggest passion killers there is. But make no mistake: negotiating money management in a serious relationship is serious business – I should know.
Money worries are one of the leading causes of divorce and separation in the UK. The relationship between love and money is such a complex one that we’ve come up with a term for when it goes wrong: it’s called financial abuse, and it happened to me.
When I moved in with my first serious boyfriend – let’s call him Nigel – I had zero idea about how to handle managing money with a long-term partner.
Nigel earned at least twice what I did. He wasn’t smug about it, and he paid more of the rent, but he’d often have to subsidize me by the end of the month.
Having to ask him for money left me feeling pretty humiliated. And I’m fairly sure he got sick of what he saw as my poor money management.
We eventually split. Shocker. In hindsight, we should have discussed the financial side of things well in advance, but when you’re looking at love nests and browsing Ikea, the thought of talking about bills is way, way too dull to justify bursting your bubble for.
But perhaps I should have. My next serious relationship took a slightly more sinister turn in money terms. Over the course of a few years, I felt my financial independence being steadily stripped away from me.
It happened so gradually. It was only when a friend asked me why I didn’t have access to joint funds and bank statements, and why I was given an allowance, that I realized what was going on.
“Over the course of a few years, I felt my financial independence being steadily stripped away from me
Financial abuse is defined as your partner controlling your ability to acquire, use and maintain your own money. Warning signs include your spending being scrutinized, lack of access to accounts, debts being run up in your name and spending your jointly-earned money without consultation.
I’d mentioned to my partner a few times that I wanted access to the account, but there was always an excuse as to why I couldn’t see it. In reality, I had no idea where ‘our’ money was going.
In hindsight, it seems crazy that I – an intelligent and fiercely independent person – had gotten into a situation like that. But, like with any form of abuse, financial abuse kind of sneaks up on you. I made excuses in my head to explain it, like the idea that he was just taking care of me.
We eventually split. The money issues definitely played a part.
I’ve been left wondering why money is such a cause of tension in relationships, and whether anyone really knows how to deal with it.
I spoke to Sara Davison, author of Uncoupling: How To Survive and Thrive After Breakup And Divorce”. “Relationships are based on trust and good communication,” she says. But she also said she’s seen people left high and dry by their partners “all too often” – sometimes in serious amounts of debt.
“I made excuses in my head to explain it, like the idea that he was just taking care of me.
“I would always advise keeping some money aside as an emergency fund just in case things don’t go as you expect or hope them to,” says Sara. “You don’t need to be secretive about it. It could just be your rainy day fund, that you keep for when both may need it. Or, when you alone may need it.”
Sara also advises that being upfront and discussing finances from the start is the best way to manage things. “There is a business side to every relationship and this is mainly the money side. Try to take emotion out of it and discuss it as you would a topic at work,” she says.
If you’re feeling belittled by handouts and allowances, that’s a severe warning sign. “If it’s decided that one partner stays home to look after the house and kids – or is out of work for whatever reason - they shouldn’t feel like a sponge on their other half. “Find ways to enable you both to have some financial freedom and enjoy what you have.”
The first step is just to recognize those signs that you might be in a financially abusive relationship. If you’re being criticized over your spending, having to ask before you spend, being punished for spending or feeling like you are walking on eggshells when it comes to money matters, I’d urge you to talk someone close to you about what’s happening.
I made a plan to leave my partner as soon as I figured it out. The fact that I was financially dependent on him didn’t make it easy – I wish I’d had a ‘rainy day fund’ tucked away somewhere. But it’s a trap I won’t fall into again.