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The M-Word: Why we need to talk about it

Do you find it difficult to talk about money?

If so, you're certainly not alone. According to new research commissioned by Lloyds Bank*, half (50%) of UK adults believe that talking about personal money matters is taboo. More than two fifths (44%) I of people have avoided discussions about money and over a third (37%) of people in a relationship have argued with their partner about money.

At Relate, our own research has found money worries are a top strain on relationships, and in the counselling room we see every day how couples and families struggle to open up about the M-word. Lying about money is more common than you might think too – a quarter (25%) have lied to family and friends about their personal finances. This echoes Relate’s In Too Deep report published in 2017, which found that one-in-seven people has hidden debt from their partner.

So why the reluctance to talk openly and honestly about money with those we love? Shame seems to play a big part in it: two fifths (43%) of people have felt embarrassed talking about personal finances.

The research also told us that three fifths (61%) of people said they feel better when they do open up and talk about their money concerns. As a counsellor, I’ve seen countless times the relief that comes when a partner or family member finally opens up about financial issues. Trust may have been broken but once things are out in the open you can start to repair it. Sometimes it’s less about trust and more a case of feeling awkward about broaching a particular subject, like debt problems or asking parents for help getting onto the property ladder.

Talking about money is ultimately good for our relationships, our wellbeing and our bank balances. It’s for this very reason that Relate is partnering with Lloyds bank on their new M-Word campaign. Together we’ll be launching a series of ‘The M-word Courses’ to help people talk about money at key life stages such as getting married, leaving home, or managing your finances for Christmas. Relate Patron, Professor Tanya Byron appeared in the media discussing the research findings and Lloyds Bank is also running a national advertising campaign including TV and online, showing real people’s reluctance to talk about money. A leaflet for customers containing tips about talking about money, created in partnership with Relate, is also available in-branch.

The first course is due out in the summer, but in the meantime, here are a few things we’ve learned which may help you to open up and, in turn, feel better.

There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to think about money

You might be somebody who values experiences and your partner may see material possessions such as a house or a car as more important. There is no right or wrong here but if you don’t talk about your attitudes towards money and learn to understand one another, there’s potential for tensions to build up. The same goes if you’re a saver and your partner is a spender.

The M-word may seem scary but avoidance is worse

Avoiding conversations won’t make the issue go away. Openness and honesty are important to healthy relationships and so applying these principles to how you address money issues with loved ones will help your overall relationship health.

A conversation is a brilliant first step but be sure to take action

As the research shows, when people talk about money they tend to feel a lot better. But once you’ve had that tricky conversation, it’s time to start putting your words into action and make a plan. Talking about money and planning together will help to avoid problems in the future.

*All figures unless otherwise stated are from research commissioned by Lloyds Bank and carried out by YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2806 adults, of which 1,910 were in relationships. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 19th February 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)

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