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When does financial support become toxic?

Money issues in relationships can be tricky, especially where one partner supports the other financially. We explore how to set healthy boundaries.

25 April 2024 · Fiona Zerbst

When does financial support become toxic?

When providing financial support to your partner, it can be difficult to set clear boundaries. 

Ashley Petyt, a certified financial planner at PWH Wealth Group, explains how such support can become toxic – and what to do about it.

Tip: Use a budget calculator to understand your expenses and take control of your finances.

There’s more to support than finances

There’s nothing unusual about one partner supporting the other in a healthy relationship, but it can become toxic if not approached thoughtfully, says Petyt.

Your partner may not contribute their fair share financially, but they could offer other types of valuable support.

“Someone who is not earning may take on most household responsibilities and childcare, or simply provide emotional support,” Petyt explains.  

“It’s vital to acknowledge and appreciate these non-financial contributions as they can balance the scales regarding overall household contributions.”

Signs of a financially toxic relationship

Here are some signs that your partner is breaking the boundaries when it comes to financial support:

  • They use the situation to manipulate or control you, creating an unhealthy power balance.
  • They make financial decisions without your knowledge or approval.

Alternatively:

  • Their guilt at being unable to contribute equally erodes your emotional connection.
  • They fail to seek opportunities to become self-sufficient, hindering both parties’ personal growth.

How to remedy the problem

Petyt recommends having an honest conversation about your goals, expectations, and anxieties. 

“Financial situations can change due to job loss, career changes, or unexpected expenses. It’s vital to establish a mutual understanding of what each partner can contribute, to create a sense of fairness and reciprocity,” she says.

Setting boundaries can help you navigate financial challenges, while maintaining mutual respect and cooperation.

“Establish guidelines for financial responsibilities, outlining what is reasonable and fair for both parties,” advises Petyt.

“This could involve agreeing to contribute a percentage of your income to shared expenses, or establishing a joint budget to manage your finances.”

Petyt says it’s crucial to distinguish between temporary setbacks and situations in which your partner consistently fails to address the problem, or considers it the “new normal”. 

“A partner’s financial irresponsibility may cause resentment and ultimately jeopardise the relationship,” she points out. “If problems persist, see a counsellor or money coach to address underlying issues and help you find constructive solutions.

“Ultimately, knowing when to draw the line – or move on – is a personal decision that should prioritise the wellbeing of both partners,” Petyt concludes.

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