Marriage counsellor explains how to recession proof your relationship

How to recession proof your relationship! Our marriages come under as much pressure as our bank accounts during a cost-of-living crisis. Top counsellor Francine Kaye details how you can save yourselves from financial and emotional ruin

  • A study of more than 4,500 couples showed that, regardless of debt or income levels, arguments about money were the single biggest predictor of divorce
  • Relationship coach Francine Kaye details how to recession proof your marriage
  • READ MORE: Divorce rates in UK are set to hit a 50-year high

You’re for ever turning down the thermostat — remember the heating bills! — while he rolls his eyes and reluctantly pulls on another sweater. 

You pick the least expensive dish on the menu when out with friends for dinner; he blithely orders his usual steak. 

You’re increasingly anxious — doesn’t he realise there’s a cost-of-living crisis? — while he seems oblivious to your concerns. You’ve reached an impasse simply because you’ve failed to talk about your different attitudes to money. 

As family budgets feel the strain of a long, cold winter, and the UK economy teeters on the brink of a recession, many relationships are feeling the pressure. 

As family budgets feel the strain of a long, cold winter, and the UK economy teeters on the brink of a recession, many relationships are feeling the pressure

Studies have shown that couples who face money problems are more likely to split up. Money is the second leading cause of divorce after infidelity, and the divorce rate reached its highest level in a decade last year. A study of more than 4,500 couples showed that, regardless of debt or income levels, arguments about money were the single biggest predictor of a marriage’s imminent end. 

As a relationship coach, I have many more couples coming to me in a state of high stress and rising resentment because of opposing attitudes to financial difficulties. Money; the reality of not having it and the emotions surrounding it, can be relationship kryptonite. 

Men are more likely to respond to money worries with depression, overwhelming panic leading to less warmth toward their wives or partners. They are more likely to take risky decisions while stressed by financial problems, while women’s appetite for risk diminishes. Women are more prone to anxiety and can be less supportive of their partners. It is a caustic, even ruinous, combination. 

For more than two decades I have helped many couples navigate their relationships, which often includes financial crisis. I have appeared on television talk shows and written two books, and I know that it’s not money itself that puts marriages in jeopardy. It’s the conflicting attitudes each partner has about it. Because each person experiences money differently, arguments that reach a stalemate can easily happen. 

Top counsellor Francine Kaye (pictured) details how you can save yourselves from financial and emotional ruin

However, it is fixable. You can ‘recession-proof’ your relationship — if you invest in it. To do this couples must learn to communicate their financial fears and feelings to each other in a way both of them will understand. Read on for my plan to recession-proof your relationship…


Our attitudes to money are engraved in our psyches. Scrimp and save; splurge and spend: the financial habits we take into adulthood are learned when we are children. 

When Jason and Amy came to see me, for example, both were at breaking point. Jason had lost his job as an events director at a large hotel during Covid, and now his new job was under threat too. He was stressed and worried and did not believe that Amy understood how he felt. Amy believed that his depressive tendencies were getting in the way of solving the problem, which she thought was to work harder in his role to help save the business. 

With my support, Jason realised that his despondency was rooted in feelings of inadequacy that could be traced back to his father, who was often out of work. His mum had three jobs to ensure the bills were paid and food was on the table. 

Amy, by contrast, inherited her gung-ho mentality from her army family, who confronted hard times with the sanguine belief that you can deal with anything. To her, Jason’s fears were irrational. The challenge for them both was to understand why they were reacting as they were, and to dig deeper into the cause. 

Each of us has a different story about money. And, if you don’t know your ‘money’ story, you will act in ways that may cause resistance, denial, fear, shame or blame towards yourself or your partner. I find the following exercise helps to work out your instinctive response to money: 

If Money Came To Tea: Sit down together at an undisturbed time. Toss a coin to see who goes first. 

Ask your partner: ‘If Money came to tea, how would you greet it at the front door?’ 

Let your partner respond. Sometimes people look baffled! That’s fine — don’t comment at this point. 

Now ask your partner: ‘And what happens next?’ (for example, does Money come inside and sit down or do something else?) 

Surprisingly, their answer will give you an idea of their beliefs and attitude towards money. One client reacted with: ‘Hello, come in, would you like some tea?’ And what happened next was Money stayed and they got on together very well! 

His partner said: ‘Let’s go straight out and spend you while I can!’ Yet another client said they would immediately take Money to the bank to keep him safe. You get the picture. 

Swap when one has finished. When you’ve both had your turn, talk about what you think those instinctive reactions have revealed. Be curious. No one can feel blamed, shamed or criticised if another person ‘wonders’ something about them instead of assumes it. Did he want to take Money to the bank because he was scared of it? Or did he think Money was a warm, friendly presence? 

The next part of the exercise is to establish where these reactions come from. Be kind to each other! Doubtless they will be based on the image of money you absorbed growing up. Because children don’t have a choice about their financial circumstances, they find a strategy for survival that becomes an attitude towards money they often take into adult life. 

It’s vital, before we make budgetary decisions or tighten our belts, that we understand what underpins our individual need to save, spend or mediate a middle course.


This is a crucial step to find out just where your relationship is at on a fundamental level. Sometimes arguing about money is just the symptom of a deeper malaise. A lack of respect or a tendency to keep secrets can sometimes emerge in the guise of a money problem, but they’re red flags in other areas too. Ask yourself these questions: 

1. What do I value most in my relationship? Make a list by order of importance: for example, companionship, fun, sex, emotional support, financial security etc. 

2. What are the obstacles that stand in the way of pulling together with my partner? Do you find it hard to talk about problems? Do other family members get in the way? Are you unsure of the relationship’s strength for other reasons? List the challenges as you see them. 

If one person earns more, and holds this over the other — controlling how and where money is spent — it will create tensions

3. Do I value my relationship more than any obstacle that stands in its way? 

4. Am I willing, regardless of the reaction from my partner, to open up a conversation and face our greatest financial fears with the intention of getting through this together? And what would happen if I didn’t? 

Now ask your partner to write down his answers too. Make a date to discuss them, do it when you both have time with no interruptions, and be compassionate as you do. If you can discuss the challenges and find ways to overcome them, you’ll find it easier to commit to sorting out the financial problems. 


Many of the couples I meet were spreadsheet experts when planning their weddings. They’d happily spend hours poring over Excel, detailing the cost of dresses and marquees and rings. 

After they were married, however, they never looked at another column of figures together again. Unfortunately, you do need to understand the reality of your financial situation — how much money comes in and how much goes out. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But what makes it challenging for many of us is that we get distracted by the meaning we place on having more or less money. We can experience lack of money as unworthiness, failure, unfairness, sacrifice, lack of safety and security and removal of choice. This can lead us into a downward spiral of distress which, in turn, prevents us from agreeing to joint action. But the truth is, money has no meaning other than the one each of us puts on it. 

Couples who have been together for years may have just one joint account. But, often, money is shrouded in secrecy. Finances are an emotional issue and radical honesty is the only way if you want your relationship to survive. 

If one person earns more, and holds this over the other — controlling how and where money is spent — it will create tensions. 

Some couples may opt to separate their finances and share proportionately, according to who earns what. This is a conversation for individual couples. I always suggest it’s done at the beginning of your relationship, but now might be the time to re-evaluate your finances. 

At this point, you may discover your financial priorities are shared. Or you might have differences that feel insurmountable. In which case you’ll need to know…


Take a piece of paper and write down the ending to this sentence: My money objective is to…

Consider the differing outlooks of Grace, a retired social worker, and her husband Charles, a master furniture maker, both grandparents in their mid-60s. Having worked all their lives, they retired five years ago with a nest egg of savings and private pensions. 

They have helped all three children with deposits on their homes and contributed towards nursery fees for their grandchildren. But the cost-of-living hike means they’re now having to economise. 

Throughout their marriage she has held the purse strings and she’s already budgeting for heating bills by cutting back on the food shop and banning the coffee they usually buy on their daily walks. Charles is oblivious to her concerns. He has always left Grace to manage the family finances. Now, they are bickering. Grace defends her actions as sensible; Charles balks at what seem like miserly cutbacks. Then they withdraw into acrimonious silence. 

Charles feels Grace has become controlling. When you can’t make sense of another person’s attitude but you judge it, this is relationship recession waiting to happen.


Intention is the focus needed to plan what we will spend our time and money on. We will only stay focused if our needs are fulfilled. Your money objective creates that focus. For example: 

My money objective is to… pay our bills and still have money over for a date night or family outing once a month, because that will keep me connected, and renew my gym membership for my fitness. 

Or: My money objective is to… go on a long-haul holiday together, renew my golf membership and go sailing with my friends. 

Action: Take a piece of paper and write down the ending to this sentence: My money objective is to… 

You have planned a new budget, you have understood each other’s money stories and you have strengthened your marriage against the coming storm

Then fold up the piece of paper, hand it over to your partner and unfold each other’s at the same time. Hopefully, the two sentences will have some underlying sentiment in common as the ones above did. Both wanted some time together. Both also wanted their own interests. 

Now is a good time to pour a glass of wine or make your favourite hot drink and work together. One of you may regret the fact that you can’t afford your usual summer holiday abroad, but a long weekend on the coast can still go a long way to lift the spirits without emptying the bank account. 

Take it in turns to suggest compromises that work for you both. Don’t justify, defend, blame or shame. 


Now you have a plan. In the days ahead you will begin to find that working as a team is the key not only to recession-proofing your relationship but also to making it even stronger. 

Take Dion and Kayley. Kayley was 25 years Dion’s junior when she married him and he was financially stable enough for her to stay at home with the children for 15 years — until he lost everything through bad financial decisions. Because of his age, it was Kayley who would need to find a job. But instead of pulling together, Kayley wanted a divorce — until Dion convinced her to speak about her greatest fears around money. 

She traced back her story to her father’s failed business, the impact it had on the family and how this felt like history repeating itself. As we explored her reactions, Kayley changed her perspective and they pulled together to build a new business. Kayley grew in confidence and does not fear poverty any more. And Dion has a partner with whom he can discuss business instead of making every financial decision himself. 

We are all far more resourceful than we think. If there just isn’t enough money, we may have to reinvent our roles. We might have to swap places so the other partner takes a turn at being the breadwinner. But change can be a force for good in a relationship. And, as you start to make the necessary changes to support each other, you will become a secure and bonded unit able to face whatever life throws at you.

Action: What, specifically, will you do in the next 24 hours to move towards what you want? Write down two things. If you’re cutting down on personal grooming, consider an evening with friends in which you pool talents for manicuring, waxing, hair-cutting. Swap nights at the pub for bring-yourown drinks at home with friends. 

The temptation to counter low mood with spending is sometimes irresistible, but talk to your partner about ways to boost your outlook. A ‘refresh your wardrobe’ social evening in which friends swap clothes is sustainable, thrifty and free, and supplies a similar endorphin high to a shopping trip. 

The antidote to obstacles is knowing that keeping our word to ourselves and each other will be the power fuelling the actions we take to recession-proof every area of our relationship. 


You have asked yourself and each other some deep questions. You have planned a new budget, you have understood each other’s money stories and you have strengthened your marriage against the coming storm. 

And I want you to remember, too, that the things that have the most value in life are almost all free. That hug at night; the kiss as you both head out the door; the companionship of an evening on the sofa watching TV. 

The empathetic ear as you vent after a hard day at work. You are lucky beyond riches if you have them in your life. All of them are recession-proof, readily available and, above all, cost nothing. 

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