Opposites attract but can love conquer all?

Sylvia Walker | 13 February 2023

Sylvia Walker is a financial planner at Andrew Prior Consultants. She spent many years in a senior management position at Old Mutual before venturing out of the corporate world. She is also a freelance finance writer and author of several non-fiction books.

While love brings two people together, money can easily tear them apart. A survey by the American Institute for Certified Professional Accountants in 2021 found that 73% of married or cohabiting couples felt that finances created tension in their relationship.

It’s not surprising - relationships are complex and money can trigger a powerful set of emotions including inadequacy, guilt, stress, shame or blame.

Feeling financially frustrated or insecure in a relationship can be a recipe for disaster. No relationship is immune, but the ability to understand and deal with the money issues in an honest way, builds a strong relationship.

If I’m right, can you also be right?

Opposites may attract when it comes to love, but being different can be a real deal breaker when it comes to money.

Part of the reason is that we all view money differently, which directly impacts how we manage it. Our money personalities are hardwired into our psyche, formed over time by our parents, our peers and life experiences, and it’s almost impossible to change.

In fact, in most cases, we don’t even realise why we make certain decisions around money; we just instinctively do what feels right.

So, when two people have different approaches, both will believe they are right and it will take very honest communication to be able to unpack and understand the differences to find common ground. And then there may be differences of opinion on issues such as how much debt to incur in buying a car, or how much to allocate to retirement savings.

Power plays

We see money as a measure of success and the more someone earns, the greater their success. This value system can be embedded in relationships where the higher earner may feel superior, creating insecurities in their partner and even resentment towards the partner earning less.

This sense of power can shift, depending on circumstances. For example, one partner may be promoted, or retrenched, impacting on earnings and perceived value to the relationship.

It’s also important to realise that money is only one element of the complex set of dynamics in a relationship. While one partner may earn more, the other may provide emotional support or manage the household, which is just as valuable. Money isn’t the only currency in a relationship.

Kiss and tell?

Does it hurt anyone if you don’t disclose your earnings - as long as you contribute your fair share? Or does it matter if you slip your son or daughter some money on the sly? These actions may seem harmless enough, but you run the risk of affecting your level of intimacy, ultimately damaging the relationship.

Intimacy is crucial to a successful relationship: it’s created through closeness and sharing and being completely transparent with one another. This transparency should extend to your finances - being honest about your beliefs and behaviours, as well as information about your income, debts, expenses and investments.

This builds strong relationships as it allows partners to discuss issues, set common goals and work through problems together. It also levels the playing field between partners, reducing money related tension.

Dirty little money secrets

Hiding information or lying about money can be destructive. In a study on financial infidelity conducted by the Oxford University Press’s Journal of Consumer Research in 2019, it was found that 85% of married respondents admitted to hiding or lying about spending at least once.

You may regard something as a harmless white lie, but where do you draw the line?

As many as 58% of the respondents in the 2019 consumer research admitted to hiding or lying about their savings and 40% weren’t open with their life partner about their debt. 

Some of the more serious secrets included undisclosed gambling (20%), directly harming the other spouse financially (17%), lying about paying bills (14%) and spending saved money (8%).

It may feel natural to play a few cards close to your chest, but it’s the severity of the secret and its impact on your joint life that can be so damaging.

Hiding money, selfishly wasting money or not disclosing money can have a direct impact on the family’s cash flow and financial goals.

But more importantly, having your own agenda is dishonest and breaks down trust, ultimately chipping away at the core of the relationship. Read more: Be my Valentine, and ask me anything about my budget

Separate but equal

As a couple, you will have joint financial goals and plans. It is also important though that each partner has their own investments, particularly women, who can fall into the trap of paying for the household expenses such as groceries and schooling, while their partner takes care of the investments. This could leave a woman financially vulnerable if the relationship ends, as she has little to show for all the money she has ploughed in over the years. 

It’s also not healthy to put everything into one pot – each partner needs to have their own bank account and some discretionary money which they can spend. Dumping your whole salary into one big pot could lead to resentment as you’re just working for household expenses.

A strong relationship is made up of two well-balanced people so you can be independent while being loyal to the joint financial agenda.

Staying on the same page

Lasting relationships are built on honesty and trust, and this includes financial honesty - so no money secrets. Commit to open and honest communication and recognise your differences without being judgmental.

Keep an open mind and discuss the issues when you’re calm. Consider counselling if you need an unbiased expert to help you find solutions.

Most of all have a joint commitment to working through your differences and finding solutions.

It must never be about one person winning, but rather the relationship winning. With the right attitude and financial intimacy, love really can conquer all.