Many of us hope to find an intimate relationship that builds us up, pushes us to be better, and makes us happy. Unfortunately, achieving the ultimate goal of finding someone who is the “ying” to our financial “yang” is a tall order. As mentioned in the article we ran yesterday, money causes more tension and fighting in relationships than almost anything else. In some cases, this can lead to one person in the partnership dragging the other down and holding them back. When money affects nearly every aspect of our lives, how can we expect to thrive and reach our dreams when we’re with someone who isn’t on the same financial page as we are? (When I say “same financial page,” I simply mean someone who has a similar financial vision for their life, as opposed to someone in the same situation as you.)
It’s important to note that a partner in a relationship doesn’t have to be flat-out financially abusive for their behavior to be problematic. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have known someone whose partner we found a bit “meh,” and not a great match for them. The truth is, if there’s a pattern of behavior where one person in the relationship acts even a bit controlling, manipulative, or hostile, it’s possible that the relationship can take a turn for the worse. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that when a relationship isn’t flat-out abusive, but rather, skirting the edge of abuse, it’s easier to let the behavior continue. I was reminded of this when I came across ‘I’ll Take Care Of The Bills’: The Slippery Slope Into Financial Abuse, an article that provided an in-depth look at the hows and whys of financial abuse.
The article talked about financial abuse, which usually happens when one partner wants to dominate the other. Nathaniel Fields, president and CEO of the Urban Resource Institute, says,
“It’s another form of abuse and domestic violence — when one person in a relationship takes control of another person’s economic resources to control that person.”
The article included two short stories about women who endured extreme financial (and physical) abuse, and noted that it started out very slowly. One woman said, “I wasn’t allowed to spend the extra money I had saved. If I bought something, he belittled me and made me feel bad about spending.” That line resonated with me, because I’ve definitely known men who treat their partners like frivolous children to be chided when they act “badly” with money. That kind of attitude is not only damaging to women, but actively holds them back if they don’t feel like they’re being treated respectfully as equals when it comes to having discussions about money.
The article got me thinking about how damaging it is to be in a relationship with someone who, in general, holds you back without you realizing it. It’s difficult to see if you’re in a relationship that isn’t good for you, and a lot of abuse tends to build slowly, which makes it easier to rationalize and ignore. It’s important to take a hard look at your relationship to pinpoint problem areas before bad habits become irrevocably ingrained behaviors. After doing significant research online, I’ve pulled together a few basic questions to ask yourself to see whether or not your partner is holding you back financially.
Do you talk about goals and communicate often?
Good communication is the bedrock of making important financial decisions together. To make sure you and your partner are on the same page, you should first consider how well you communicate. You can take a couple of quizzes online if you’d like, but I think it’s relatively easy to figure out for yourself if you take a hard look at your relationship. Are you vocal about the things you want? Is your partner really listening to you? One article I came across said that a sign of a healthy relationship is optimizing your communication: Are you paying attention to nonverbal signals, focusing when they speak, making eye contact, and actively listening? I’ve been in a relationship with the same guy for nearly 10 years, and now it’s easy to spot if we’re in a funk, and aren’t talking to each other the way we need to be. If we’re not acting like a sounding board for each other’s financial goals and dreams, we’re holding each other back. Now, when he says something like, “I’d love to do X in five years,” I ask follow-up questions about how we can make it a reality, instead of responding with something flat like, “Omg, how cool would that be?!” (Having a default reaction is a surprisingly difficult habit to break.)
Does your partner support you/push you to be better?
Another article suggested that a sign of a partner who might be holding you back is someone who allows you to rest on old bad habits, and who doesn’t push you to grow. When your partner says or does things that keep you down, or tries to control your actions, it’s a problem. To focus on moving forward, I’ve read it’s essential to “help your partner develop strategies that will aid in pursuing their goals, and encourage them to focus on the positive aspects of achieving their goals.”
Do you have very different attitudes toward money?
If your partner has a vastly different attitude about money (which you might not even be aware of), it could seriously hold you back from reaching goals you set for yourself. For example, if you want to own property, and your partner doesn’t (and they aren’t saving to meet that goal), it will naturally feel like that person is keeping you from ~doing you~. It’s not impossible to be in a relationship with someone who has a vastly different attitude about money than you do, but making it work requires a significant effort. Is it worth your time? It’s important to understand what you and your partner want out of life, and how each of you plan to approach saving, investing, and long-term planning. Experts say to watch out for bad behaviors and body language when having these discussions. If your partner is uninterested in these conversations, makes you feel self-conscious or “silly,” or discourages you from pursuing the things you want, it might be time to address that.
Do “money talks” feel defensive between you and your partner?
I’ve heard many women say that money conversations with their partners (past and present) are filled with tension. It’s common for one person to feel defensive when money conversations come up, especially if they involve discussions about personal habits, failings, or less-than-ideal decisions they continue to make. It’s not easy to have productive conversations about money with your partner, but it can be even more torturous if one person is always on the defensive. An aggressive partner can be a sign that that he or she has deeply-rooted issues that can be toxic to be around in the long term. Everyone has their flaws, baggage, and issues, but it’s important that we talk openly about them.
Lastly, it’s important to assess whether your relationship displays any “classic signs” of abuse. TFD has featured articles about financial abuse before, and I’ve read countless articles about money, love, and how the two affect nearly every aspect of life. So many articles tell us that no matter what our relationship with money was in the past, we can always move forward to improve your finances. And while it’s not always easy to be in sync with your partner, it is possible to find someone who pushes you to be better.
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