There’s a simple answer to
the question in one way from my point of view which is that there’s plenty of
evidence out there that when you ask people about things going wrong with
their relationships one of the top reasons they give is arguments over
money absolutely and we know what the key stresses are on relationships
and money worries is one of those big key stressors but it’s what does that
mean in the internal workings of that relationship and a couple dynamic I
think there’s another side to it as well which is the money isn’t just money
money stands for all sorts of things one of the things that myself and
a colleague at University College London we did this really big survey
and we got 109,000 people who told us through questionnaires things
about their emotional and psychological relationships with money one of the
things we’re interested in is what did money stand for for them and we were
broadly able to divide people up into three kinds of groups one group was
people who saw money primarily about security it’s about putting stuff away
for a rainy day it’s about making sure you’ve got enough for your pension
there’s another group a very different group for whom money was all about
freedom it’s about the freedom to do whatever you want the freedom actually
to tell your employer to go hang and I don’t have to care about whether I keep
this job or not because actually I’m okay financially a third group saw money
as primarily about power and status you know these are the ones who were
very keen that people saw them in a flashy car or that they were able to get
their way because they’ve got lots of money money also about love money as the
giving and receiving of love about generosity I think if we’re thinking
about what does money do in relationships yes money trouble can
cause the stress but actually the very different ways in which people see money
can I think be also a source of friction no
absolutely and I think what we found I mean we did this study called the
enduring love study and it was about how couples sustained their long term
relationships and people were mentioning especially women were mentioning
arguments about money were one of the biggest things that they disliked
about their relationship but what was interesting is once couples worked
together to resolve a financial problem then their relationship seemed to be
positively impacted from that kind of economic deficit in a way and they had
this idea of the relationship horizon where something would change later
on one partner would get a job their financial situation would get better and
it was against all adversity they were stronger and I think
that’s really interesting about how money worries actually can be a positive
thing when couples work together as well people often are in relationships with
people who are quite different from them sometimes that’s what’s attracted them
in the first place and the issue is not are you different do you find ways of
talking about it and negotiating your way through that you know so if you’ve
got someone who sees money is all about security and their partner sees money is
all about freedom to do what they want then that you know that in a sense is a
recipe for lots of arguments and lots of difficulty but like anything in a
relationship it’s it’s there to be negotiated through and obviously you
know that’s usually gendered you know we know the pay gap if we’re
looking at it in terms of parenting households as well that it is more
likely to be the woman the mother who stays at home and then the disparity in
income and quite often resentment that you know I used to have a good job and
now I don’t and so suddenly I am dependent on the income coming in from
the primary breadwinner I agree I think there could be some
quite toxic combinations you know see if you’ve got somebody who sees money is
mostly about power and status and they’re the one earning all the money in
the relationship you can see that being quite a toxic combination I think what was interesting for me as well was when people were talking about this what
they’d then say was how do they re-balance the scales when you’ve got
such difference in finances one woman was actually talking about
well she was withholding her intimacy she was withholding the love
that she could give because it was the only way of retaining the power she felt
she hadn’t got so it’s interesting how money can be matched by something which
isn’t money and I think it’s not just about couple relationships you
know if you look at why do families you know after
the death of a parent can be an occasion when that chequers all sorts of
arguments between siblings about money entangled in all of that is all sorts of
stuff about oh well they always loved you more than me and it becomes a proxy
for that absolutely and it turns the the old adage you know money talks
completely on its head it speaks volumes and the volumes it speaks is about the
emotional currency of money rather than the actual monetary value if you think
also when the times of year post Christmas people have spent a lot of
their money and we know the divorce spike is post Christmas but that isn’t
so much money that’s about the intensity of the occasion the huge cultural
expectation that we’re all going to spend all of our time together and it’s going
to be quality time but it’s enforced quality time that we’re used to not spending
together most families spend vast amounts of time apart and suddenly
they’re in this contained environment so I’m not convinced it’s entirely about
we’ve spent all the money and we realize we haven’t got any by the end of January I do a lot of work around financial capability financial education and so on
I think in that world one of the things that often gets easily forgotten is that
yes of course there tend to be less money troubles where people are able to
manage them but that’s almost completely drowned out by the
fundamental issue which is when you’ve hardly got any money that is
in itself the cause of the problems and I think that one of the things I suspect
is really important is that in relationships where you’re really
only just managing day by day or really struggling to manage or not managing
that money becomes a focus of those difficulties and those stresses
in a way it doesn’t otherwise but it also gets tangled up with all of
the other stuff Wanting to do the best for your kids if you’ve got children and
just not being able to meet the ideal that we have is the cultural norm which
is the generosity of parenthood but I mean what was interesting about the
study the qualitative study we did was that people were saying that the
emotional value that the couple relationship value of small gestures and
they were very dismissive of grand gestures so forget the big you know
Interflora bouquet it was the very small flower that was
picked from a garden and I think that’s where money is you know you can
really see that it isn’t the problem yes I completely agree if you’ve got none
actually it’s just hard work when you’re having to think about how can you feed
your family but it isn’t money per se it’s the dynamic of the couple which is the
problem I think not only is money inherently very emotional how you manage
your emotions makes a real difference to how effective you are financially you
know for example one study we’ve just completed shows that people who are bad at
managing their emotions will often find other ways of doing it well we know that people do other things like comfort eating and turn to drink or
drugs or but one of the things that people also do is turn to things like
buying impulsively you know paradoxically people in money
difficulties will often cheer themselves up by going out shopping we know that
people who understand their own emotions and other people’s emotions are actually
better at handling their finances what was interesting for me is the way
that people were talking about their relationship so we had one couple for
example who would talk in a very clear sighted way about it’s like having money
but you have to put affect you put your emotional wealth together you put
your energy into a relationship and then when time’s are really hard when things are
lean emotionally you can draw on that so I think people are
making very sophisticated associations between money and economic value of
things but there’s also a burden of social expectation that people are
dealing with and they’re constantly being flooded with actually very clever
emotionally manipulative advertisements for example about you know to have a
happy life you’ve got to have this you’ve got to have that I mean I think that’s true but
if you think of some of the other adverts where it’s just about this
cultural expectation of everything’s going to be rosy and everything’s going
to be great and what was interesting in our research project the enduring love
project was that people were saying all media representations are rubbish
we don’t relate to them at all we just have no affinity with these because
these aren’t real people what we do on an everyday basis is we just get on with
life we muddle on and what works in a relationship isn’t those things that can
be identified in the cultural sense what works in a relationship are those
things that only that couple know for example so the very very small gesture
and I think that’s what’s different about the media it’s sort of it’s
out there but it doesn’t in a way impact on the personal relationships in the
way we might think it does so I’m not sure about the advert well there’s lots
of evidence they’re quite successful in getting people to buy stuff now this
this idea that came up in our research of you know people equating
money with love you know that if you’re not able to spend money on your
family on the people you’re in relations with somehow you don’t love them enough I do
worry about the way in which as a society we seem to be constructing our
expectations of the role money should play in a relationship where I and
colleagues started with all of this we weren’t studying emotions at all we were
studying or certainly not relationships we were studying the risk-taking
behavior of traders in investment banks and what staggered me was just how much
time these traders spent talking about their emotions and the emotions of
managing these very large sums of money you know so this idea so I think
you studying relationships myself studying
the way in which people professionals and ordinary people behave
in relation to money have come from different directions to this idea of
just how important emotions are in all of it yes no absolutely and the
cultural value that is assigned to an emotional value so definitely we agree I don’t think we were supposed to oh dear