Now is the time for couples to communicate about their finances, share responsibilities – and not be too proud to accept help from each other

I stood still at the car park, looking at my colleague as she emotionally narrates her financial challenges during lockdown and now. Tears run down my cheeks as she speaks of the arguments that she and her spouse have had, but particularly about how less of a man her spouse claims to feel because she has had to give him money for bills and groceries.

I reflected on my life with my partner. Apart from discussing our office closure and the potential impact on our staff and their families, our suspended debit orders, or tenants and their paying or unpaying attitudes, our unpaid bills, our inability to support our little daughter’s foundation, our future plans for ever opening up our businesses again, how COVID-19 has changed how we shall get back into business, our lack of work, our investments, our possible office reopening dates if at all and our friends and relatives who have sent us money, food and love during these tough times, we have not really looked at who spent what, where, how and when among ourselves.

Our financial lives have not changed much post lockdown. In fact, the massive change we encountered is that I have not been to any shop since 25 March. My spouse has gone out shopping and I have now and then either ordered something online, paid a bill or given him money to pick up specific items. We are lucky.

I thought about my colleague’s situation and what many couples have possibly gone through financially. Hearing that her husband told her that she is now able to talk (with authority), because he is unable to foot bills, broke my heart. Immediately, my coaching experience (and desire to help) kicked in.

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I am a strong advocate of family finance and the practice of transparency in earning, saving and spending

When it comes to joint bank accounts, I leave that to the couple to decide. I am of the opinion that in a situation where there is transparency in earning, saving and spending, a person will not feel lesser having to spend their partner’s money because when one has no money, they are aware of the fact that the other earns for the family and not for self.

To give you an insight into this couple’s perspective; the two were happy until lockdown was extended. After the extension, the husband became bitter because he had no savings. He needed to continue paying his bills including the house rental and children’s school fees. But with no idea when the country would open up, and as a self-employed contractor with no pension or insurance, and a wife who is a full-time housewife (who does small hustles to earn), the end of lockdown was all he could hope for, for his next touch of cash. Unlike the lockdown, this man’s cash savings could not be extended, so it dried up.

This is when his wife stepped in. She paid the bills and gave him money to get groceries for the family. Man took money, but man was not happy.

Many relationships are now suffering as one – or in our case, both partners – have lost their sources of income

How you handle yourself now and in future is very important. What kicked in, was for me to empower my colleague – or should I say former colleague since we are not at work anymore – on how to handle herself and her husband during what happened to them over eight weeks ago, but still lingers in their household.

I spoke to her about the importance of effective communication in a relationship

I look forward to putting out an article on this soon, but for now, how can this couple fix their past and rekindle their marriage?

The first thing that came to mind was to blackmail her. As a parenting enthusiast, I hardly speak to couples without touching on their children. In many cases, this works.

So, I started with “Do you and your husband understand that you cannot fight over money because you have to be good examples to your two beautiful children on how money is managed, including how it is earned, spent and invested?”

I did not give her time to respond as I employed her to set a perfect example by treating money well. Not as an enabler of her relationship, but as a party within. If her children notice that they fight over money, they will not treat money well as they grow up, I said.

A couples’ ability to share responsibility and resources, to make both individual and joint compromises, and to strategise together for the greater good of their family will set an excellent example to both of them and to their children. A couple is a team, and a team works together. While they are in lockdown with their children, they need to use the time to model the benefits of effective teamwork.

Saying this reminded me of the real reason for her husband’s loss of self-esteem

This woman has taken immense pressure off the family by subsidising his income and this becomes a problem to her husband? No! Who will not desire a partner who can come along them during such times? I wondered.

At this point, I decided to give her strategies to use and subtly work on her partner’s self-esteem, starting with communication, emotional intelligence and acknowledgements.

Couples do plan better and more effectively if they budget together

Of course, not every person has financial wisdom, but it is almost impossible to survive a pandemic like this without seeking your partner’s insight into your or their income, expenditure or other financial resources. Remember that you are, or were locked down together. Seeking their wisdom will just help relieve you of stress because you will track your expenditure from combined resources and would share responsibility.

My colleague was quiet, but looked thoughtful. I continued and urged her to talk to her husband. I said that she must ask that they set their family financial goals and advised that they start weekly, then monthly, then yearly and before they know it, they will be setting long-term and life-time goals together.

I advised her to keep her cool at every stage because introducing a new concept in a relationship requires emotional, social, psychological, cultural, spiritual, physical and financial, balance and commitment from both parties. In the case of finances, a lot of sacrifice is required.

The coronavirus crisis may well be the prompt you need to bring your finances together and to open the channels of communication

I added that making difficult financial decisions alone during a pandemic is scary, tough, feels isolating, and attracts the feeling of loneliness even for those who have in the past shared financial responsibilities and resources.

To you the reader, I say that if you and your partner lead separate financial lives, the coronavirus crisis may well be the prompt you need to bring your finances together and to open the channels of communication.

I asked my colleague if she knows that if couples plan together, they provide for each other and their children both when they are alive and when they die? I did not need to tell her more about this, but I felt like she needed more clarity.

What we are going through now is an indication that life can be cut short at any time

You need insurances, life covers on each other’s lives, you need to know who is who’s next of kin, you need wills, and more. Please speak to a professional who will help.

Should her partner become very sick or even die, not knowing their financial position like bills, insurance, debt, inheritance for the children or her, can cripple her and put her in a more struggling position.

As my colleague and I wound down our discussion, I thought about how much of knowledge is power. How knowledge gives us a bright future. How the lack of knowledge of a partner’s financial state brings nothing but anger, suspicion and resentment. It provoked me to think that what her husband felt was because he was shocked at what his wife could afford. He had no prior knowledge.

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For automatically reducing some of the financial stress that her spouse would have faced, this is enough difference to make him and many other partners out there remember the power of accepting financial and emotional support from a partner, and to see it as an indication to be grateful.

Whatever you do, try to create equality and respect for each other in the relationship. Do so by making sure that both of you share financial responsibilities relative to each other’s earning. Many couples are abusing, separating, divorcing, attempting and even committing suicide because they are unable to stand job losses, retrenchments or losses of income – or just the lockdown and what it has deprived them of. Some are unable to stand the fact that lives will never be normal again.

For those who have been used to sharing both financial resources and responsibilities, drawing advice, input and guidance when making important financial decisions, this time would have been easy.

For some who never did – like my spouse and I – I want them to see that the lockdown provided an opportunity to start sharing.

For many, the lockdown has made them drift apart. Some made it through. Some are still struggling and will continue to. Others are giving up. Identify which of these you are and work on what you need to. You can get a copy of my book titled, Proven Habits for Financial Freedom and make sure that you and your spouse benefit from it.

Always remember that regardless of who earns what, joint planning works if each partner has clear responsibilities on budgeting, cash/spend management, saving, investing, bills paying, creditors management and gifting. Just open up. Life is both easy and exciting if you do so.

As the greatest communicator in your family and its most successful psychologist, it is important to note that long-term relationships entail joint responsibilities. In this case, responsibility in earnings, spending and savings. What experts call financial planning.

If you did not acknowledge this, then remember that sometimes it takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to bring to light the benefits of joint financial wisdom.