Don't let finances ruin your relationship

14 Feb 2017

When two people are planning their future together, disagreements around money and spending habits are bound to occur from time to time. However, if not properly communicated and swiftly resolved, a financial quarrel can start to fester in an otherwise healthy relationship.

This is according to Old Mutual's senior legal manager, Sore Cloete, who says that money is one of the biggest sources of conflict in marriages and long-term relationships. “In a recent international study (source: Ameriprise Financial 2016) conducted with over 1 500 couples who are either married or living together, it was found that one in three couples – including those who said they were happy in their relationships – argue about money at least once a month. With South Africa’s divorce rate currently at its peak (source: Stats SA, 2016), couples need to figure out how to keep money from getting in the way of their relationship.”

Average South African under extreme pressure

However, with many South Africans finding themselves under increasing financial pressure, Cloete says that she understands how issues around finances can cause friction in a relationship. “The recent increase in the petrol price, coupled with rising food prices and crippling taxes, has left the average South African consumer – many of whom are already up to their ears in debt – under extreme pressure. This sort of pressure can play havoc in a relationship – especially when partners don’t see eye to eye on their spending habits.”

Other areas that Cloete says can typically cause trouble in relationships include debt, differing levels of income and responsibilities towards dependent extended family members. “Debt is often seen as ‘financial baggage’ and when one partner has more debt than the other, issues around finances can compound quickly. Then there is the common issue of one partner earning significantly more than the other or where only one partner is working. These scenarios can often result in an uneven balance of financial power, which prevents a couple from tackling their finances together as a team.

Supporting extended family members

“Lastly, the issue of having to look after extended family members can be a major source of financial tension in a relationship. According to the Financial Services Board, only 6% of South African retirees are actually financially independent at retirement, while the remaining 94% are dependent on their families, friends or the government. This often results in portions of one or both partners’ salaries being diverted to help support extended family members and can create a feeling of resentment if not properly discussed and agreed upon.”

Cloete urges couples to address these areas of financial disagreement sooner rather than later. “While discussions around money and spending are not very romantic, they are a vital component of a successful long-term relationship. Money can trigger different emotional reactions in different people, depending on their upbringing, experiences and financial beliefs, which is why it is so important for couples to explore their individual relationships with money in order to discover what specific aspects may be causing anxiety or frustration.”

While even the best-suited couples may sometimes disagree on financial matters, Cloete says that the happiest ones know how to address the issue and work through their differences. “As is the case with many relationship problems, lack of communication is often the underlying issue. Finances can however be a very sticky topic to get into, so having a knowledgeable objective third party can be extremely helpful. With the help of a financial adviser, couples can reach their financial goals together.”