"My other half deals with the finances. I don't know anything about it." I've lost count of the times I've heard this.

Yet I suspect if you're the one reading this, that's not you. You're the family's senior financial partner – not necessarily the main breadwinner, but the one who deals with all the family finances.

I've always suspected this was common, and I've just used this site's weekly poll to test it. The results are pretty stark (see the full results).

For couples who co-habit – 4,091 votes

Poll results for couples who co-habit
One of the couple is in charge 54%
We share the responsibility 25%
We keep finances mostly separate 22%
Figures rounded-up to the nearest percentage.

For married couples (and civil partnerships) – 11,588 votes

Poll results for married couples (and civil partnerships)
One of the couple is in charge 67%
We share the responsibility 26%
We keep finances mostly separate 7%
Figures rounded-up to the nearest percentage.

As can be seen, over half of co-habiting couples and over two-thirds of married couples have a senior financial partner – so this is the most common way of operating family finances.

And anecdotally, the amount one person can dominate may be huge. I even met one financial adviser who told me that many of his (in this case) older male clients set up financial plans for their wives and then signed for them – often without telling them, to "spare them the trouble".

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Are you secretly hurting your spouse by looking after the family finances?

The problem is the three D’s – death, divorce and dementia

While it's easy management for one person to take on the financial tasks, it can hurt more than help. Never mind the fact that two brains are better than one, the key question to ask is what if one of the three D's occurred – death, divorce or dementia.  The fact one partner can't deal with the finances could lead to financial misery for them on top of the grief.

This isn't sophistry. After one talk at the Ideal Home Show, four women aged 50 to 70 came up to me in a row. Each had just lost her partner and all said something akin to: "I'm in dire straits. I simply don't know where to start with the finances. What do I do?" One was even in a panic, as she was struggling to access her husband's bank account to pay the mortgage.

In a relationship, both partners need to be aware, if not involved, in the finances.

Time for kitchen table briefings

I suggest the senior money partner create a financial factsheet. A simple structured list naming all product providers, from roadside recovery to investments, boiler cover to bank accounts. Keep it somewhere safe, but don't put too many security details in, just in case.

Then arrange a kitchen table briefing every few months (or more frequently if you've financial difficulties and need to budget) where you update the list and discuss the latest changes, priorities and choices.

I've championed financial education in schools for a long time, yet it's important to also champion it in a relationship. If you love your partner, perhaps the best thing you can do for them is to ensure they'll be able to manage the finances with less stress if you no longer can.

Your thoughts are welcome via the discussion below.

Martin Lewis
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