Being in a relationship for money doesn’t sound great. Think questionable dating websites, couples with fifty-year age gaps disingenuously professing their love for each other, and exorbitant divorce settlements. However, according to new statistics, more of us are guilty of it than we think. A recent study by the trade site Ziffit found that, of over 2000 people interviewed, almost a third admitted that financial security was a key reason they were with their current partner. Plus, of those who admitted to staying with their partner for monetary motives, 35% said they couldn’t cover the cost of living without their other half’s bank account, while nearly half said they split the cost of rent and mortgage as a couple. Even those that had left a relationship claimed they stayed longer than they should have for financial reasons. Research carried out in 2014 by market researcher Opinium found that one in seven people who were divorced or separated admitted they’d stayed in their marriage too long, citing financial worries as the main reason. This figure rose to one in five when it came to women. You might find these results archaic, given that we are supposedly on the road to gender parity; it’s 2016, women should be financially autonomous, right? But according to the stats, that’s just not a reality for a huge amount of us. A mixture of factors ranging from cost of living to soaring rent prices in UK cities, along with a stubborn income discrepancy between men and women, mean that couples are feeling intense pressure to shack up earlier than they otherwise would and stay together longer than they’d like. Sarah*, 26, a freelance copywriter, is one of these people. She has been with her boyfriend Eliot, 30*, a management consultant, for six years, and claims that, although the excitement has gone from their relationship, she can’t face breaking up with him. The main reason being that she’s become accustomed to the lifestyle being with him affords her. “We’re now in our second rented home together and share the cost of virtually everything,” Sarah says. “Eliot earns significantly more than me and this is reflected in our outgoings. He pays a larger share of the rent, the majority of the bills and covers the cost of flights and accommodation when we go away. I pay for extra luxuries, eating out, entertaining friends and weekend treats.” It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that to break up with Eliot, Sarah would have to move to a smaller flat, live a different lifestyle and completely change her spending habits. According to psychotherapist Charlotte Dunsby-Ferguson, couples who combine their living expenses can save money in the short term, but the long term effects could be detrimental. “On the whole, couples get a better deal when it comes to living costs, but when funds are intermingled it can be much more difficult to leave a relationship,” she says. “Living in a city affords greater career options and higher salaries but is also costly when you consider the steep rental costs, travel and other expenses. This can drive some people into situations which aren't necessarily healthy or happy.” She has a point. According to a report published in October, rental prices in the UK have jumped by an average of between 6.3% and 8.5% in the previous year alone, reaching record highs. With tenants now having to fork out an extra £600 a year on average in order to rent a property, and rental fees varying wildly from agency to agency for no apparent reason, renting homes is increasingly extortionate. Property prices also mean that buying is an unattainable dream for most millennials. Research figures around housing are dire: a study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed last year that Brits in their twenties are half as likely as the previous generation to own their own homes. It therefore makes sense that couples might shack up together to share the astronomical costs of rent, and it can be tempting to move in together too quickly. But moving too fast can make it near-impossible to move out and start all over again. “My relationship isn’t working and something needs to change,” says Sarah, who’s still with Eliot despite the difficulties in their relationship. “But right now I just don’t feel I can afford to leave the relationship, given the rising cost of living and speed of house price growth in London. I see single friends around the same age, sacrificing social events, being priced out of London and moving back in with their parents.” "Once we become accustomed to a certain standard of living it can be incredibly difficult to move on as humans are designed to avoid stressful or anxiety inducing situations, agrees Dunsby-Ferguson. "Often, it's easier to just put up with it.”
There’s no doubt that women today have far more financial autonomy than we did 30 years ago; according to a British Social Attitudes study, women’s participation in the workplace has increased “markedly”. In the mid-1980s, nearly half of people agreed with the statement “a man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family”, where only 13% agree to this now. Women also make up 47% of the UK workforce and over half of university graduates. Yet, despite obvious leaps in public opinion, there are still plenty of burdens in the fight for women to become equal earners. The gender pay gap is alive and well, over 40 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was introduced: women will earn nearly £300,000 less than men over their working lives — and young women are more likely to be paid below the living wage than any other workers. When you couple the disparity in women’s wages with increasingly unaffordable house prices, you can see why it’s more and more impossible to separate finances from relationships. We don’t necessarily start off relationships looking for financial security: the circumstances often creep up on us as years go by, and before we know it, we’re tied into a joint rent, joint bank account and joint payments on a car, while simultaneously feeling like we can never leave. To complicate matters, there could be psychological elements at play too. Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist and couples counsellor, believes that, often, people citing financial security as a reason to stay together are just finding a useful excuse. “It’s a convenient cover for something else. When my clients talk with longing about doing something radically different – taking a sabbatical, going back to university, changing career or indeed leaving their partner – the number one reason they give for holding back is ‘I couldn’t afford to’. “Dig a bit deeper, however, and often what’s at the root of their inertia is a lack of confidence or a fear of the unknown. I think this is particularly the case for many who are unhappy in relationships. They may give the reason of it being financially impossible to break up but really they’re scared of staking it out for themselves. For many, being single can be way scarier than being in a dead relationship.” Burke urges caution when planning to move in together early in a relationship, and Sarah agrees. “I would definitely have done things differently,” she says. “You can’t predict whether or not you’ll fall out of love with someone, but you can plan for the future and, if possible, maintain an element of financial independence.” This may not be the most romantic way of approaching a relationship - but at least you’ll always feel secure in yourself. No matter what your bank balance looks like.
*Names have been changed
*Names have been changed