In our initial blog post, we started to explore the many reasons having money conversations with your spouse or partner is critical to your financial well-being individually and as a couple. Because money can be so stressful, the first conversation we recommended having was the “foundations” conversation. This focused on you and your partner listening to one another, identifying financial triggers, and exploring your “money past” together so you can move forward with confidence.
This post will focus on the final two conversations you and your partner need to have for alignment in your financial life. Ready? Let’s dig in!
Conversation #2: Experiment & Discovery
Once you have had a good foundation built through your first money conversation, and understand the backdrop, take a week or so off. Having the foundational conversation begins a process of introspection, reflection, and sharing. You might find that new memories or themes arise. That’s great–share them!
Don’t short-circuit the process by rushing into the money mechanics. When you are ready, schedule time for Conversation #2. In this conversation, you’ll start to consider some more practical financial questions. Here are a few potential topics:
- Should we merge money, keep it separate, or somewhere in between?
- If we do some merging, what sorts of purchasing or other financial decisions would we want to know about or discuss before the other one takes action? Is that because we need approval, transparency, thought partnership, or another reason?
- If we do some merging, who will be responsible for making sure bills are paid on time?
- Which paychecks should go where? Should we keep accounts on autopay?
- How to approach debt? Should we approach it together?
This can feel like a high-pressure discussion since money is an essential part of living. You might be in a relationship for a long time, even a lifetime. A lifetime decision on something important (or even not that important) is high stakes. For most people, it’s stressful to make high stakes decisions so, instead, start by reducing the stakes.
The goal of this conversation shouldn’t be to come up with an immutable approach that will stay in force for the next several decades. Just decide on something to try first. See, we are just trying something out–no big deal! This will be an experiment. It isn’t forever, just a few months. Approach those few months with the spirit of discovery. Many things will work well but probably not everything. The experiment is about learning and growth, not perfection.
You don’t need to address every potential topic. Actually, it’s better if you don’t. Focus on the big things to start. Rather than getting stuck in the complicated web of hypotheticals, you can wait and see what arises and treat those prompts as natural experiments. A wise friend of mine says “don’t worry about a problem you don’t have” and that’s true here.
Conversation #3: Reflection, Discussion and Iteration
What worked? What’s next?
Once you have a sense of what your first money experiment will involve, schedule a time in 3-6 months to reflect on it. Enter a date and time on your calendar to discuss how it’s going. It’s important to set a time proactively because if you just wait, at some point someone will be upset, and you will end up talking about this in the context of a fight instead of when you are your best self.
Scheduling a time helps ensure that you can have a reflective, generative, exploratory conversation. The goal of the conversation is to debrief the experiment, identify successes, and see what changes might help. If you identify some potential improvements to try, you’ll just repeat the process with another experiment and another reflection discussion date.
As you derbeif your experiment, focus on the parts of your system that are working well. Build on your success! In my experience, most things will probably be a good fit to keep–maybe 80% or so. Share your gratitude for them and about each other. If you appreciate yourselves and your progress, you’ll generate a lot of momentum to help you continue the process of connection and iteration.
Of course, a few things will annoy you, feel clunky, or cause tension. Perhaps take a moment of gratitude that we are humans not robots! It makes life so much more interesting but it does lead to some annoyance.
Many experiments surface some rough spots. For example, we’ve had client meetings where one person (for the purpose of this example, we’ll call them Pat) mentioned that they check the credit card statements to make sure everything is as it should be since they sometimes get anxious about the potential of a billing mistake. They worried that their partner (for the purpose of this example, we’ll call them Sam) would be upset and feel judged when asked about purchases.
Here’s what the case study looks like during meetings like this:
It turns out that Sam was annoyed, but it wasn’t because of judgment. It was because Pat would ask Sam a question and then, just as Sam settled back into what they were doing, Pat would ask another question, and so on every few minutes.
Sam appreciated that Pat was checking the statements but just wished that Pat would ask all the questions at once. It was an easy annoyance to fix once they figured out the problem– communication was the key.
That’s it! These are the three critical money conversations that every couple should have. In our third and final installment of this series, we’ll be going over the nitty-gritty of a few of these conversations, and giving a bit more background on how to structure those discussions to help set you up for success.