By Nick Stewart
It is perhaps no surprise that financial stress can impact your mental health. This stress can also impact your relationships, particularly with your significant other.
As a whole, we have a tendency to brush the issue of financial stress off as part of life - however, it can cause a tremendous amount of emotional strain, both personally and in your relationship.
Relationships are a beautiful thing. It is two committed people building their lives together. However, it's not all about having dates every Friday night, and going out to the movies. Reality is much more complex.
Differences in how each partner approaches or deals with "money matters" can vary widely - and can be heavily influenced by how your respective parents handled money issues.
When you consider that about a third of adults with partners report that money is a big source of conflict in their relationships, it's no wonder that financial problems are a leading cause of divorce.
A survey of more than 3000 New Zealanders by the Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) found one in five people had relationship problems with partners, family or close friends due to financial concerns.
Interestingly one of our employees related how they had to undertake a "Marriage Encounter" course over a three day weekend, and four hours was devoted to money issues and how to discuss and come to an agreement on money and finances.
The 18-34 age group reported the highest degree of relationship strain due to money – 24 per cent. The issue decreased with age with 21 per cent of those aged 35-54 experiencing problems, 14 per cent of those aged 55-65, and only 7 per cent of 65+ saying they still had arguments over finances.
There's one case that nicely ties relationships to mental strains with the current pandemic being the driver:
After seven years of marriage, 29-year-old Sophie Turner and her husband filed for divorce. They'd never discussed splitting up before the coronavirus crisis, but during the pandemic, their marriage soured.
"I was more stressed, and it was all just building up, and we decided for maybe a trial separation," says Turner, a support worker for children's social services in Suffolk, England. "Very quickly we realised it was going to be more permanent than that."
Their experiences are becoming increasingly common, with divorce applications and break-ups skyrocketing around the world. When reading the case above there was one key word that captured my interest, 'stress'.
RNZ reports that stress and worry was reported by 31 per cent of New Zealanders. We all need a level of stress in order to be healthy. From time to time, everyone can feel sad, depressed, anxious, tense or afraid. These are common and natural human emotions. However, these can affect you negatively in your relationships due to financial stress.
The CFFC's personal finance lead, Tom Hartmann, says there is a "recognised link between financial stress and mental health issues, effects that are exacerbated when money problems impact our closest relationships".
"Good relationships with partners, family and friends support good mental health and resilience, but as opposites often attract in relationships, partners will have different attitudes and habits when it comes to money," says Hartmann.
"No two people will ever have the same experiences or earn the same amount; this can put strain on any relationship."
Tips for making finance less of a stressor in your relationships:
· Schedule weekly money dates.
Weekly money dates allows individuals to come into the conversation prepared, unthreatened, and ready to make progress. If these discussions are held on a regular basis, they will not be postponed until things have gone horribly wrong and tempers and defences are flaring.
· Talk to each other about your financial history.
There are certain to be costly and painful miscommunications if one partner believes it is usual to keep their expenditures hidden while the other wants expenses out in the open. Find out what your partner considers to be normal and what they consider to be abnormal. What you perceived as a nasty or deceptive conduct may have seemed to them as a seemingly "regular" money habit, or vice versa.
· Try to be more compassionate and patient.
Money matters are extremely personal, and they can elicit strong feelings. By empathising with one another, couples can give themselves permission to admit their previous mistakes, allowing them to plan for the future without fear of embarrassment. Keep in mind that when it comes to personal money, these challenges are more than just a balance sheet. In discussions about money, pride, guilt, and self-worth can easily become entangled, so proceed with caution and respect.
· Create positive associations.
Couples can learn how much fun was missing in their relationship when money was a source of worry by talking freely about their financial dreams and goals. When strategies are in place and couples can see a viable road to debt-free living, they actually enjoy their financial discussions because they now symbolise the great opportunities that await them in the future, rather than feeling like a confessional to examine previous "sins".
Financial goal setting and financial independence are important, as is overall happiness and wellbeing in partnerships. If finances are causing friction in your relationships, you might consider speaking to a financial adviser and creating a plan to achieve your best possible outcome.
Having a more positive association with your finances means less time stressing over them, and more confidence to move towards your goals – both personally and with your partner
· Nick Stewart is a Financial Adviser and CEO at Stewart Group, a Hawke's Bay-based CEFEX certified financial planning and advisory firm. Stewart Group provides personal fiduciary services, Wealth Management, Risk Insurance & KiwiSaver solutions.
· The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from an Authorised Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961 or visit our website, www.stewartgroup.co.nz.