What's healthy?

When it comes to health-checking a relationship we usually head straight for the big, obvious items, like how they make us feel or if they respect our space. It's not often we consider the invisible factors that help keep a relationship stable.

But in all the stories we read, we started to notice a trend: often, the way a couple handled their finances was a deciding factor in whether their relationship went well or not.

Clearly, we need to talk about money's place in a healthy relationship.

So let’s take it from the top, and get it straight. What should healthy financial behaviour in a relationship look like?

You're willing to talk about your money

If you're nervous or worried about being judged, rest assured most of us feel similarly. However, being able to talk about your finances with your partner is important. It means rather than keeping each other in the dark, the two of you let each other in on your questions or concerns; and use that information to figure out how best to support one another.

Most important is your willingness and patience to practice having these conversations. It takes time to get this particular skill right.

You share or understand each other's financial values

Compatibility is a real thing. But the buck doesn’t stop at the two of you vibing each other’s look or personality. Financial compatibility matters as well.

Ask yourself: do you have similar financial goals and values to your partner? Is the way you handle your money similar or complementary?

While differences are about par-for-the course and shouldn't make you nervous, having a similar perspective to your partner on how to manage your finances and what you want out of them can make the day-to-day easier.

You build your financial knowledge together

Whether it occurs organically or otherwise, the two of you are willing to grow your financial knowledge together.

You both recognise that while money may be complex at first, it can have an impact on your individual or collective wellbeing and is therefore important to understand.

You make and manage financial decisions together

When it comes to major decisions, the two of you act as a team.

You understand that the choices you make could also affect your partner, no matter whether it’s quitting your job to go back to school, buying a new car, or putting a bid on a house.

That's why you consult them on the pros and cons of the options available, and collectively make a call that's right for the both of you.

You both cope with (financial) stress with your eyes wide open

Financial stress happens to the best of us. But when you're feeling pinched, clamming up rarely helps you or your partner.

Being willing to discuss your concerns and how you'll tackle your problems—either separately or together—is a sign that you're able to work on complex and confronting issues, as a unit. You can also tell when things have gotten too hard, and it's time to bring a financial counsellor in to help.

.... then what about the flip side?

Sometimes though, what looks like a fair way of dealing with money together may just be the opposite. While red flags come in many different grades and shades — cerise, cherry, scarlet — here are some key ones to look out for.

Your partner won’t talk about money

A relationship thrives on open and honest communication, no matter whether it's about your feelings or your finances.

If your partner's shutting down conversations around where your money’s going, or changes the topic when you try to discuss your lease arrangements? It’s a major red flag.

You fight frequently or argue about money

While bickering about money can be normal, outright arguments aren’t. Especially not if they get nasty.

If you can’t come to a compromise with your partner around the financials—or worse, feel like you’re just not being heard? It could be a sign that your approach to or views around money are fundamentally incompatible.

You feel pressured to move in too fast

Moving in with your partner is a big commitment socially, emotionally, and especially financially. If your partner's putting on the pressure but you’re not ready, it could be a sign that your needs aren’t being taken into account.

Before you take the plunge, remember that money problems are often magnified once you move in together. If your partner isn't listening—or is talking over your reservations—that doesn't bode well for the future, either.

You feel like a fool in their presence

No-one likes being made to feel incompetent. Especially not about something as important as money.

If your partner makes you doubt your financial ability—or worse, openly mocks it—it could be a sign they're trying to make you reliant on their support, which they can give and take as they please.

Money responsibilities feel unfair

It can be hard to know where the line is between ‘being a supportive partner’ and ‘being taken for granted’. But when it comes to managing your finances, you shouldn’t be taking on more responsibility than you’re comfortable with.

For starters, being the main money-manager can be emotionally and logistically taxing. But far more importantly? Taking on responsibility for your partner’s finances could negatively impact your own financial future.

The key red flag here is whether or not your partner’s willing to change. Gendered expectations or discomfort around money can mean that it's easy to fall into bad patterns.

But if your partner's comfortable with the (uneven) status quo? It's another matter altogether.

You're being denied your basic necessities

We’ve all got things we need: water, food. Money to get in and out of town. Enough gas in the car to go see family.

If your partner’s actively withholding these things from you or making you beg or perform favours (sexual or otherwise) to get what you need? It’s clearly abuse.

No partner should act like this.

Your partner sells your property without permission

Sure, you might ‘share’ your things with your partner. But sharing furniture means you have equal decisions about what happens to it. So if your partner’s gone ahead and sold your sofa behind your back, without your permission? That’s not OK.

Beyond being a violation of your trust, this behaviour’s concerning for what it conceals. It could be a sign your partner's struggling with things, like a gambling debt, that could hurt you in the future.

Your partner pressures you to take out loans or debts in your name

It can be hard to say no to your partner. Especially not when they’re asking for help.

But there are some lines you just shouldn’t be asked to cross, no matter the love. Like say, agreeing to let your partner use your credit card willy-nilly. Or acting as guarantor for a loan you’re not that sure about.

Just like with every other aspect of your relationship, only you should have the final say on what you’re willing to do or not do. Good partners shouldn’t force you to take on risk for their benefit.

A note to consider

Sometimes things can be solved by a good money conversation.

Sometimes we’re playing out patterns of behaviour we've learned from our parents, or falling into bad habits because we don't know how to address them.

Sometimes love can be rescued. The concerns can be addressed.

But sometimes? It isn't love.

Or at least, not the kind of love you want.

If you’ve been experiencing any of the warning signs above and there’s an anxious ache in the pit of your gut that you just can’t seem to clear? You could be experiencing financial abuse.

Broadly defined as a form of family violence, it's what happens when your partner tries to control you through economic means; and it can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

You're not alone. There's help out there.

1800Respect have developed a financial abuse toolkit to help you find out more and get advice from the right helplines, as has Moneysmart.

We've also pulled together more tools for immediate support on the Help page.