If money's burning a hole in your relationship, it's time to confront the problems and sort out the financial mess before it's too late says a relationship expert.
"Money's right up there with sex, lack of time together and parenting, as the biggest cause of relationship breakdown," warns relationship psychologist John Aiken.
With constant reports and threats of global doom and gloom, it's no surprise that a recent survey has revealed that Australians are citing financial stress as the biggest contributor to the breakdown of their relationship.
More than one in four of those surveyed in the Relationships Australia/CUA survey put financial stress above communication difficulties as the biggest partnership-wrecker.
"It's become a much more prominent factor for relationships since people are getting married later, after pursuing their careers, combining two incomes and then having to deal with money management issues," Aiken says.
He says management is the key ingredient - firstly recognising that money needs managing, then making the time to confront the issues and having the skills to resolve them.
"Australians need to proactively take control of their money and have realistic expectations and clear goals - you just can't afford to sit there and think the finances will take care of themselves," advises Andrew Hadley, Group General Manager Marketing and Strategy of Credit Union Australia (CUA).
Here is some advice on how couples can keep their finances and relationship on track:
Here are some signs that Aiken says may point to money becoming a threat to your relationship:
1. You frequently argue about money. It's a common topic of conflict.
2. You're snooping around or trying to find out what your partner's doing with money. You're a detective on the money front.
3. There are lies or secretive behaviour surrounding money. You're hiding things or spending money on the sly.
4. You don't have joint plans, "couple plans", for the future.
5. You feel anxious, angry or resentful, if money comes up in conversation.
Here are Aiken's 10 money tips to allow couples to work as a team rather than trying to get through financial stress as two individuals.
1. Understand each others' money values
Talk to each other about your upbringing and the values you attach to money.
"This is important because if, for example, you have a saver and a spender, you're constantly arguing around the different approaches to money and the values each partner brings to managing it," Aiken says.
2. Have no secrets
Be totally upfront about all your finances - such as if you've got debt going into the relationship or you've got a difficult month coming up.
3. Create joint financial goals
"For those who don't have particularly clear money-orientated goals, you're never on the same page. Some plan for the future, while others live for the here and now," Aiken says.
Take some time to work out what you're going to do together as a unit, as a team, in six months, 12 months, five years.
4. Divide up household financial responsibilities
"Sometimes one person will be solely responsible for paying bills and managing the money and it can put too much pressure on them and also disempower the other partner," Aiken says.
"So, you don't have one CEO of all the money, you divide up the tasks - taking care of bills, saving plans, decisions about money. You're sharing it as a team, rather than one person dishing out advice and decisions."
5. Prioritise expenses and make sacrifices
Sit down as a team and decide what's most important to cut back on - is it a coffee? Probably not. It could be one partner blowing $200 a week on the pokies. Be honest with each other.
6. Create financial ground rules
Agree to black and white rules on how you're going to go through each week together - and have a plan, maybe you pay all bills on the 20th of each month, you might cut out Friday-night binge drinking or take public transport to work.
7. Focus on solutions not blame
"Ensure that at no stage are you sitting there saying `I can't believe you got me into this mess'.
"It's all about how are we going to move this forward? What are we going to do differently. So, it's solutions not blame."
8. Praise each others' efforts
If you're doing things well, getting yourself out of the hole you're in, you praise each other for it. Reward him for paying the bills on the 20th like he said he would.
9. Check-in regularly with your goals
Regularly check how you're going with your goals. Do you need to nip or tuck anything, do you need to modify the plan so you stay on track. If there's a challenge that's come up - do you both need to make any adjustments?
10. Spend quality time together
It's important for couples to do things together that don't cost anything. A lot of people say "We can't go out, it costs too much, we're in a financial crisis". So just do things like going for a walk or having a DVD night in, Aiken says.
"It's important to say to each other that even though we're in a difficult situation financially, we need to keep connecting to get through this, we need to be a team."
By Virginia Ginnane