Money can be a big issue in relationships – in fact it’s the number one topic that married couples fight over. And, behind cheating, it’s the second most popular reason for a divorce. The balance of money and power can also be used in the more sinister context of domestic violence and coercive relationships. One partner restricts or denies access to financial resources in order to retain control over the other. While domestic violence (thankfully) doesn’t affect everyone, most of us have experienced the tension that the balance of money and power can create in a personal relationship. Achieving equilibrium can pave a path towards contentment and happy relationships. However, when the balance is off it can spell disaster for the future of a couple.
How does money and power affect personal relationships?
Most couples feel some impact on the balance of power in their relationship from the way each one earns and handles their finances. For the large majority the power balance is something that shifts continuously over time, from one partner to the other and then back again. Many different factors can influence who currently holds the “power” in the relationship and money is just one of them. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that financial issues can be difficult to deal with. These are just a few of the ways in which money can affect positions of power between two people:
One person earns more than the other. Given the relentless presence of the gender pay gap, men in relationships tend to earn more than women. However, this is not always the case. Where one partner earns more than the other it can create a sense of entitlement for the higher earner or resentment and shame for the individual earning less.
Gender roles still persist. Where women do earn more than men, research indicates that this tends to make women feel more empowered when it comes to making financial decisions that affect the household. However, it may not go further than shared money decisions – even high earning women still often feel a gender based pressure to take on traditionally female roles, such as being the primary caregiver to children or handling most of the housework.
Spending habits are wildly different. Two people who have a different approach to finances can end up with a difficult power dynamic in relationships. For example, if one person is frugal and prefers to save they may tightly control the finances and take all the power from their partner, especially if that person is prone to splurging.
Some of us just don’t like to be in control
Many people view the ideal relationship as one of a balance of opposites. In the context of finances this might be one partner who is very good at budgeting and financial management and another who is a higher earner. Some of us are more than happy to hand over the management of our joint finances to the other person if they are better at it and more interested in doing it. In most relationships this is fine. However, issues can arise when the person who has delegated financial responsibility simply can’t get it back. For example, the partner in control is using it to wield power and so is unwilling to allow access to key financial information – or to cash.
Avoiding issues with money and power in personal finances
Talking about money helps to avoid issues arising. 54% of those in “great” marriages tend to talk about money with their other half either on a daily or a weekly basis.
Sharing finances is important. Separating the bank accounts, paying separate bills or maintaining your own personal accounts into which wages are paid doesn’t help couples to avoid issues with money – it can actually make them worse. If your finances are shared then you’re much more likely to have an equal power balance because everything is out in the open.
Dishonesty about spending can be a passion killer. And it can also kill relationships too. One in three people who argue with their other half admit that they have hidden purchases from them. Often, deceit can create a whole new power balance in a relationship, one that leaves the person being deceived feeling angry and frustrated – so much so that they might just walk away.
Aligning goals and expectations is essential. The couples who save together stay together. If two people have very different financial expectations and goals then there is a lot of scope for something to go wrong when one person’s needs are not being met.
Money and power go hand and hand in personal relationships. If you manage to work out a way to move forward together financially then the rest of your relationship has a great chance of success too.
Amanda Gillam is Solution Loans's General Manager and has been since 2009. She is also a prolific writer on personal finance issues, and has been quoted numerous times in articles published on 3rd party websites and in press releases. Her...Read more about Amanda Gillam