Financial Stress in long term Relationships

Carmen BryceBlog posts

As human beings, money is, for the majority, something that we think about more than we care for.  

How we deal with financial stress within a long term relationship is so important in terms of how we communicate, how we view each other and how we understand the balance of both power and of nurture within our relationship.  

Financial stress is, in itself, enough to tip a long term relationship over the edge.  Having more outgoings than incomings is enough to destabilise the most secure of people and the most safe of relationships.  It is the point at which an individual’s input into a family unit becomes the cause of strain that the relationship needs to support.  Financial stress is most likely a consequence of another source of stress: an increased outgoing (due to illness or addiction for example) or a decreased capacity for income (due to redundancy or pay decreases for example).  Within this, it is important that the issues are dealt with as separately as possible by the couple. Both partners will be experiencing the stress of financial difficulty. However, it is likely that one partner may need additional support as they encounter the stress of the issue that caused the financial difficulty in the first place.  The other partner is going through a secondary process as they deal with the ramifications of their spouse’s difficulty but the couple cannot come together to deal with their financial stress until they have certainty about their capacity to deal with the underlying issues and causes of financial strain.

Next, it is vital that the couple engage as much additional support as possible when they encounter financial stress.  Non profit money advisory services are available to anyone who is uncertain of how to proceed from a financial planning point of view.  Banks have teams of staff to deal with changing financial circumstances and being upfront about your capacity to meet necessary payments is essential.  Assessing whether the financial strain is temporary or more long term is likely the first port of call for most couples.

From a therapeutic point of view, the key components within this are expression of difficult emotion, communication style and capacity to commit to each other within a strained situation.  

First of all, when expressing difficult emotion, what happens to the other partner?  How do I react when my partner tells me that they are angry because of a situation that I have caused?  Does their expression of pain cause me to feel invalid? Does it address issues around my understanding of gender, relationship, social standing?  Looking at each of these questions is very important for a couple in this situation.

Next, how we speak to each other is key within this piece.  We need to clarify some ground rules for each other around how we speak to each other as well as what we say before we engage in full conversation around the topic.  Likewise, it is equally important to agree, verbally and explicitly, to discuss the matter honestly, or, at the very least, to agree a credible and honest framework for what will be discussed.  If one person has traditionally had more control over finances, is it important to us as a couple that we move to a space where both partners feel empowered within their finances?

Finally, allowing time for financial difficulty to manifest in terms of each partner’s understanding of the relationship is really important.  Asking ourselves, individually and as a couple, what this means in terms of our self worth is key. What does money mean to me? How did I understand it as a child?  What bearing does this financial difficulty have on our social standing and how important is that to me as a person? Answering these questions on a personal level as well as with our partner is the basis for working through any financial difficulty.   

Financial difficulty is stressful for all of us.  It creates uncertainty and fear in all elements of our structures: social, personal, familial and relational.  However, if we allow space within our relationship for honest expression of crisis emotions, and then allow ourselves as a couple to work towards shared new goals, it is absolutely one of the pieces within a long term relationship that has the capacity to bring a couple closer.

By Lorraine Hackett