Long gone are the days when women in the UK expected to be kept by their husbands: the reality for most of us is that we work hard to achieve our career goals, and strive for financial independence.
If a woman does settle down with someone else, and start a family, she is highly likely to return to work: with rising costs, a two-salary household has become the norm in order to make ends meet.
And if one partner does decide to take primary responsibility for child care or other domestic duties, there’s no reason it has to be the mother.
But equality is still being fought for: the battle is not yet won.
An imbalance in money, and therefore in power, in your relationship can be the root of many problems, so it is something that you and your partner need to address head on to resolve financial problems in your relationship.Money is the root of many relationship problems, even if you have plenty of it. Click To Tweet
How to Handle Finances in a Relationship
1. Who Holds The Purse Strings?
The phrase “to hold the purse strings” has been in use in English since the medieval period.
It’s important because the implication is that whoever has the money in the purse has the right to decide how to spend it. But in order to maintain equilibrium in your relationship, this isn’t necessarily going to work.
There are many reasons why one of you might be earning more than the other, even if you are both working the same hours in similarly demanding roles.
And on top of this, the input that you both put in to your home, or to raising your children, can’t be quantified solely in financial terms.
2. So What is a Fair Solution?
There is no one size fits all solution to the problem: what is considered to be fair by one couple might be considered grossly unfair by another.
This means that you have to talk openly about your thoughts and feelings about money and power, and both of you have to be sensitive to how the other person might feel.
If you are the main breadwinner in your relationship, it can be tempting to assume the right to decision making, particularly regarding how money is spent.
But just as generations of women felt powerless when lacking financial independence, so too can men when the roles are reversed, and that’s not healthy for either of you.
3. The Not-So-Fun Stuff…
The keys to a workable, fair solution are honesty and mutual respect.
You both need to be honest about what you earn, what you spend, and what contributions – financial and non-financial – you can realistically make to your shared life and the responsibilities which come with it.
Be prepared to justify, unemotionally, what you say, and answer each other’s questions without becoming defensive. This is not a point scoring exercise but a way to find a fair balance of money and power.
If you are unsure what you are spending, you need to keep a list. It’ll help you to budget for the future in any case.
Discuss your spending together, including addressing thorny topics like what constitutes essential and discretionary spending, that pair of new shoes, or the money spent down the pub.
In this way you’ll both get a clear understanding of all the expenses you have (many of which would otherwise be overlooked), and what each of you feels is important.
4. What is the Way Forward?
The result of this exercise might well be that you or your partner feels that they are carrying a disproportionate financial burden.
If this is the case, the perceived disparity in money and power will fester, but there are a couple of ways of dealing with it before it becomes a problem.
One option, of course, is that the aggrieved party reduces their contribution to joint expenditure, and their partner increases their contribution by a corresponding amount.
This might be done, for example, by reducing spending on alcohol, going out, clothes, etc. and instead putting that money towards rent or bills. But that isn’t always an option, especially if one of you has given up paid work completely for a while, for example to provide childcare.
In this case you need to look beyond the money: what other contributions is this person making to your lives? What value does their contribution have? You might consider the money saved by not having to pay nursery fees or for a cleaner.
You might also factor in the qualitative benefits of your kids being raised by a parent, your partner being less stressed, having someone keep an eye on elderly parents and living in a harmonious environment.
5. What’s Next?
An inequality in income and spending needn’t damage your relationship, but hiding it, ignoring it, or taking advantage of the power discrepancy it can create will undoubtedly be harmful to you both.
What can you do to create a more equitable relationship with your partner? How will you identify and address feelings of powerlessness before they become a problem?