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How to Help Your Partner Through a Bout of Financial Hardship

You can start by not pestering them about finding a new job

Eight in 10 Americans live paycheck to paycheck, our nation is on the brink of economic collapse and automation is stealing our jobs. So odds are, between you and your partner, someone might need financial support one day, and how that support is provided can either make or break your relationship. For advice on walking that fiscal tightrope, I consulted financial psychologist Brad Klontz, founder of the Financial Psychology Institute. Here are his tips…

Consider Your Options

Before making any promises, think hard about both your financial and relationship status. In many states, being married means your finances are technically combined to form a single marital estate, meaning your partner lawfully has free access to your money no matter what, so they can go ahead and help themselves.

What you should also consider is whether this instance of needing money is a one-time thing or a situation your partner continually finds themselves in. If your partner is constantly in a place of financial hardship, you might benefit from going to financial counseling together, as lending them money on a regular basis could facilitate their reliance on you. “The risk, whether you’re helping a partner, spouse, friend or family member, would be that your financial help ends up hurting,” Klontz emphasizes. “What you want to do is avoid enabling some type of behavior that’s undesirable.”

Lastly, you obviously need to take a hard look at your own finances and figure out what kind of help you can provide. Helping more than you realistically can, for example, could spell out the financial death of both of you, and that would be the absolute worst-case scenario.

Have a Sit-Down Discussion

Once you have a good understanding of your own finances, there are a couple of things you and your partner need to nail down together — namely, whether your help is a gift or a loan, how long your help will be provided and how often you plan on checking in. “It’s an important discussion to have,” Klontz says. “Both of you are going to have assumptions about what’s happening, and they might not be the same ones.”

The best way to avoid enabling your partner or growing resentful, Klontz says, is making a timeline for when your help begins and ends. “One of the dangers is that somebody lost their job, and some of the tension could be that there are other job offers, but they’re not happy with those and they’re holding out for a better job,” he explains. “Then, two weeks turns into a month, which turns into two months, which turns into three months.” But when you set a clear deadline, your partner knows they need to pick something before your help ceases.

For the same reason, Klotz recommends scheduling regular check-ins to see how your partner is doing on the job hunt. “If you can schedule them, it doesn’t make it awkward,” he says. Anyone who’s been unemployed knows that being randomly pestered about their next job sucks, but when you have some time to plan ahead and get your thoughts together, the two of you can have a more productive conversation about your next moves. If your lending deadline is approaching, these checkups are also a good time to ask about other ways you can help them out, besides just giving them money, like helping with their job hunt, for instance.

Avoid Micromanaging Them

When you lend someone money, especially someone you live with, it can be easy to hold that above their head and badger them about when they can pick up the slack, which is annoying and unhelpful. So if you can, Klontz suggests looking at your help as a gift, rather than a loan that needs to be paid back. “If you’re going to be offering some financial support, at some level, you need to be willing to let go of what the person decides to do with it,” he says. “For example, if you’re going to pay more of the rent, and then you see your partner, in their depression, go to the mall and buy new shoes, how are you going to feel about that? If you’re going to resent them, you really need to have a conversation upfront.”

“If you can come from a place of not needing to get paid back,” Klontz continues, “that’s a helpful framing, because ultimately you’re never going to be able to control whether your partner pays you back or in which order they pay you back. Money being lent is best lent when there are zero strings attached and you’re okay with them not paying you back.” If you can’t afford to do that, you and your partner need to rethink how and where you can help out, even if that means picking up more housework so they can spend more time looking for work.

In the end, the best way to lend a hand in these situations is to be honest about how much you can help, no matter how small that help may be, and then communicate in a loving and caring way. That way, even if you both end up going broke, at least you’ll be broke together.