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Money is an awkward topic of conversation topic at the best of times. During a pandemic, it can become a nightmare. Financial worries, debt and inequality can put a high degree of strain on the most solid of relationships, threatening existing dynamics, even when the subject is broached with good intentions.
It’s hardly surprising we’re most focused on the health impact of the virus on our nearest and dearest, not to mention our own, which can mean discussions about personal finances take a back seat. But what happens when you or your partner have been furloughed, left as the sole earner, or one or other have lost considerable income due to Covid-19?
Money can change relationships forever, and drive a wedge between people that proves to be the be-all and end-all.
So what are the best ways to navigate it in a relationship right now.
Out in the open
Simply avoiding the topic or ignoring the problem might be the easy path to take, but it certainly doesn’t help anyone. When someone close to you is struggling financially it’s important to have these honest, uncomfortable conversations about money. Sure, these can lead to embarrassment, shame or confusion, but once it’s out in the open, you can only move forward from there.
“When we are highly stressed about money – it can trigger a part of us that goes into fight or flight or freeze,” Pam Custers, relationship therapist and Counselling Directory member explains. “Conversations shouldn’t be black or white, but have a conversation that teases out not only where you are now, but also the possibilities of the future.”
Think medium and long term
With future plans on hold and many taking things as they come, we are living in an infinite present. Where income has suddenly reduced or even completely dried up, it’s about sitting down with your partner, co-constructing a way forward and working out how to manage together.
“Be gentle with each other. Don’t just talk about the bottom line. Start talking about how you’re going to go about this and the importance of thinking about the future,” Custers adds.
“Say you’re furloughed or you’ve just lost your job. Figure out some sort of trajectory for how you can navigate out of this situation. Have a conversation that focuses on each other’s strengths and be sure to value each other’s competencies in order to recoup and reorganise – it’s a really scary, uncertain time and we need to pull together, and not apart.”
Be on the same page financially
It takes a lot of courage to be able to voice any fears and concerns that you may be having, but taking the first steps in creating a plan that works for everyone and sticking to that plan is a step in the right direction.
“Take stock of where you’re at and assess your priorities. Make some lifestyle adjustments and come to terms with the change because you don’t want to be coping and waiting for an end of the tunnel that’s not really coming,” advises Bukiie Smart, founder and editor of Save Spend Invest.
“Be flexible and adaptable. You may be earning less or not at all – and that’s okay. Think outside the box and find more ways to make an income. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘get a proper job’. You can monetise the skills you already have, sell things lying around the house, or get creative doing something entirely different.”
Spread the load
Where we’re all feeling the pinch right now in this current climate, helping someone else out financially can be hard. Not just because your own budget may be tight, but because money is such an emotionally charged subject.
“It’s not possible to lend a hand if you yourself, don’t have anything to give. People need to get that comfortable saying ‘no, I can’t afford that right now,’” Smart adds.
“If they do decide to help out in some way be prepared to lose that money in the worst-case scenario. Obviously, it’d be great to get the money back and if there’s some repayment plan in the future, but when lending money people should have a mindset of ‘if I don’t get this back, would I be still okay financially?’ Make sure it’s not something you’ll regret or have a huge impact on your financial goals.”
Re-evaluate budgets and move goalposts
Financial circumstances and timelines change all the time. Making adjustments – no matter how big or small – can be imperative and instead of polarising one another, it can actually bring a couple together.
“What Covid-19 has actually shown us is that there are some families who’ve lost jobs or experienced income reduction – most of us are eating into emergency savings,” Aditi Shekar, founder of personal finance app Zeta, tells HuffPostUK.
“Have regular check-ins with each other. Discuss purchase limits on spending, prioritise the important things such as mortgage or rent, put timeline goals in place for what’s working and not working. Set easy rules for you and your relationship, then use those as sort of mini-guides to keep you guys on track and keep you in sync about your money.”