Dear Andrew,

My name’s Agency, and I’m in a tricky relationship. Client and I have been together for several years, and while everything wasn’t always perfect, lately things have become increasingly complicated. The trust we once had seems to have gone, and it seems like we’re no longer on the same side. Most of our arguments seem to centre around money. What should I do?

Confused, Sydney

Well, Confused, from what I’ve heard from plenty of others, you’re not alone. Relationships are under pressure everywhere at the moment. Advertising firms and clients that have shared long-term plans together now seem to be turning on each other at an increasing rate. Money seems to sit at the centre of many of the arguments, but, as is often the case, this may just be the catalyst for exploring deeper issues in the relationship.

On the one hand, Agency, you have to accept much of the blame – you’ve been benefiting sweetly from the relationship for years, and you’ve often taken advantage of the pressures on Client. You seemed to be constantly on the hunt for opportunities to extract more from him when you should have kept quiet, done your bit, and accepted that sometimes, that’s just the way things go. If you are being honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that there were times when you contributed very little and demanded much in return. Often you assumed that Client was unaware that you weren’t spending as much time on the relationship as you claimed; perhaps he was just willing to let the little things slide in favour of keeping the overall relationship running smoothly. You don’t score any points for capitalising on this.

In your defence though, Client could have spoken up sooner. If Client believed that he was being asked to pay too much for too little return, then he probably should have said so sooner. Waiting until it all boils over and unleashing such accusations in one big torrent – supposedly justified by prevailing external circumstances – doesn’t seem entirely fair. Problems such as these should be addressed in small steps along the way – it’s better for both parties and helps keep the air clear for positive conversation.

You may also have found lately that Client has been blame-shifting, projecting responsibility onto you for things that are clearly outside your control. Now, be careful about this issue: you don’t have to take it lying down, but you do need to remember to respond and not react, and to focus on how you can both move forward together rather than on who is or isn’t to blame.

If things have been really tough, Client may have been talking about the possibility that you should both see other people. Don’t be too quick to judge – Client probably has good reason to. There are plenty of lonely, keen-to-be-noticed-again younger versions of you out there at the moment, Agency. And while desperation can be a stinky cologne, they’re probably willing to contribute more to the relationship with Client than you are, without asking so much in return.

That said, it’s not wrong of you to expect a certain level of loyalty from Client in return for your years of (mostly) faithful service. To diminish all the effort you’ve put into the relationship previously and look purely at the finances seems somewhat misguided. It’s not really just about what both of you invest in the relationship, it’s about the value you’re able to draw out. Focus on these areas as you talk to Client in the coming months.

Most importantly, however, you need to avoid the adversarial trap: once the relationship degenerates to the point where you’re no longer seeing each other as partners but as opponents, you’re in real trouble indeed. Difficult times in relationships will either bring partners closer together, or drive them apart. Based on my experience, what I’d suggest is this: you need to look for opportunities during this crisis to show Client how much you value the relationship, and be willing to ask for less in return – it shows that you’re taking a long term view of things. It’s an approach that I’m keenly in favour of, and it’s paying dividends in my relationships.

Lastly, it’s about communication. Every relationship can benefit from keeping the channels of communication open, promoting discussion and looking for collaborative ways to solve your problems. Now is the time to build on trust, honesty, and integrity.

Do these things and you should start to notice Client rewarding you with reassurances about your future together. If not, then perhaps you and Client should have parted ways anyway – just because times are tough now doesn’t mean that he can treat you however he likes. If Client is taking advantage of the situation and is becoming abusive, then move on. You can be assured that it’s a problem he’ll take into his next relationship, and that when things improve, he’ll be hard-pressed to overcome his abusive reputation and he’ll come crawling back to you, Agency. Whether or not you take him back will be entirely your call.