Event chair, Professor Brett Kahr got the ball rolling with a thought-provoking quote from Sigmund Freud (who else?). 'Money has never made anybody happy, because money was never an infantile wish.' Human beings need a much more basic sense of security than money, suggested Kahr, so why is money such a problematic issue between couples?
The evening’s stellar panel comprised feminist author Kate Figes, columnist Cristina Odone and philosopher Robert Rowland Smith. 'When people earn more, they feel they have the right to choose how the other person spends it,' ventured Figes. 'Couples don’t sit down and talk about money nearly enough.' These days, money and couples sounds like an oxymoron, observed Robert Rowland Smith. 'We think being part of a couple should be about love, not money. We like to think of ourselves as romantics. But if you look back to Jane Austen’s time, money was an explicit part of the dialogue between men and women. Something has decoupled money from love in a way that isn’t helpful.'
Odone agreed, recalling that growing up in a strict American Catholic family, her father had forbidden her from learning either to iron or to sew. 'Because a man would then make you sew and iron for him and you would not go out and earn a good wage of your own.' Everyone agreed that these days money remains a taboo subject — it’s on the agenda, but under the table at the same time. The flashpoint for many couples is clearly when a woman has children, a move frequently accompanied by a drop in earnings. So women often become dependent on their partner financially for the first time, which creates tension on both sides.
'Can money, like sex, be a barometer for the health of a relationship?' pondered Kahr. 'Well, both are a currency of communication,' said Figes. 'Forget the love, it’s a business you’re running.' 'Currency is a great word,' agreed Rowland Smith. 'Relationships trade on all sorts of currencies all the time — who does the shopping, who gets the car today. It’s an emotional stock exchange.'
Odone pondered that perhaps that was the whole nature of being in a couple in the first place. 'You bring something to the relationship, the other person brings something else.' 'And money provides a tipping point, it can send the relationship downhill, or it can be an accelerator for emotional growth,' said Rowland Smith. In conclusion, Kahr agreed that while money was the root of so many problems, there was definitely an upside once people began to talk about the issue. 'It really does offer an opportunity for a deeper dialogue.'