Part One: Conversations Couples Should Have About Money
For many, money is a source of stress, conflict, and fights within their relationship. In fact, studies show that money issues are the second-biggest cause of divorce among American couples, second only to infidelity. Yikes! That’s a daunting statistic.
Luckily, your finances don’t have to be a source of strife–talking about money and solving problems together can actually enhance the strength of your relationship. Conversations about money with your spouse or partner can strengthen your connection and deepen your relationship.
Don’t believe me?
That same survey found that 94% of respondents who say they have a “great” marriage discuss their money dreams with their spouse, compared to only 4% of respondents who say their marriage is “okay” or “in crisis.”
How Can You “Jump Start” The Financial Conversation In Your Relationship?
I’ve spent the last 15 years talking with clients about the intersection of their relationships and their money. In that time, I’ve developed an approach that enables couples to learn about each other, build a financial system, and improve it over time. And the best part? It only takes three unique conversations.
In this blog series, I’m going to share with you the best way to hold those conversations, what to cover, and how to structure them, as well as how to deal with the emotions they bring to the surface. We’ll also talk about why it’s important to have these discussions and go over some broader issues around when to merge finances and when to remain independent. Are you ready to start talking? Let’s go.
Why Have Conversations About Money?
Your financial goals shouldn’t just be about how much you accumulate. Ultimately, if you design them correctly, achieving your financial goals will help you live the life you want while making the impact you seek. For example, one or both of you could want to take a sabbatical, change careers, start a business, join or start a non-profit organization, see your families more, spend more time with your own family, etc.
Having a partner with the same goals makes you much likelier to achieve them. And, if those of us in relationships are doing it right, working on finances with a partner can lead to stronger relationships. Ideally, your relationship helps you succeed at achieving your life/financial goals, and your financial progress helps your relationship. It’s a delightful virtuous cycle.
Who Is In The Conversation?
Some people don’t like to think or talk about money. Others enjoy discussing their finances and don’t find it stressful.
Many people can discuss financial topics only when they feel supported and calm. Others like to hash issues out through dialogue that can feel a little like an argument.
Some people love to daydream about the future. Others get nervous thinking past next Friday.
The point is that people are different, and your partner may not approach financial topics the same way you do. Actually, they probably don’t.
Even the closest couples have different interest levels and conversational styles when it comes to talking about money. That’s great! It’d be super boring and probably stagnating to be in a relationship with someone just like you. It could be that one person is organized, follows through reliably, and has an interest in financial matters. Perhaps the other one prefers to help the household in other ways, or to take the lead on other important family projects.
One of the nice things about being in a relationship is that, since different people are good at and prefer different things, we can often work it out so that we do more of the helpful things we enjoy and fewer of the ones we especially don’t like. The key is to know who is in the room and figure out the best way for both of you to have a good, productive, and bonding conversation.
So think about your partner – the way they communicate and how they feel about money – as you plan for these three conversations. In this blog post, I’m digging into Conversation #1. Subsequent blogs will cover Conversations #2 and #3. It works best if you approach them in order, and it will become clear why.
Conversation #1: The Foundation
Before you talk about how to divide up bills or other practical details, go deeper to build a strong foundation through an emotionally rich conversation. In other words, save the nuts and bolts for later!
The key thing in this initial conversation is to really listen to each other. That means you can’t just wait for your turn to talk. Be interested! You are about to learn some important stuff about your partner’s triggers. What you find out could unlock a whole new level you can achieve as a partner. The things you hear are likely to be very significant. Your partner might not even know how important the themes they raise are, and may even, themself, discover some important truths in the process.
Set aside time (about 90 minutes – could be more, could be less!) where you won’t be disturbed. Put your phones away–really, put them away. It is crucial to make sure no one is hungry or tired. Remember to take care that both people are sharing and being heard well. Begin by outlining your hopes for the conversation. I have included some prompts I often use when facilitating this conversation. You can use these, create your own (let me know what you come up with!), or try freeform (but beware it is a lot harder that way):
- What is your first memory of money?
- What did you learn about money in your family growing up?
- When your parent(s) (or other adults in your household) worried about money, what did they worry about?
- If you think they didn’t worry about money, explore why the conflict was hidden instead of revealed. It’s possible they never worried, but that is very, very unusual.
- If people in your family fought about money (most people do), what were some of the fights about?
- When you are anxious about money things, what’s the anxiety all about? What do you worry about?
- What financial aspirations do you have? Are there specific things you want to have or specific things that you want to do?
We often inherit the worries of our parent(s), or other people who cared for or had an impact on us as kids. Those worries probably didn’t help our elders much, and now, since our situations are very different, they almost surely won’t help us.
During this conversation, many people begin to recognize for the first time how their own anxieties are inherited and have little or nothing to do with their own situation. If this all seems a little “woo woo” or emotional – it is!
If you don’t understand the emotional basis for your money fears, you’ll have a lot of unnecessary fights. Plus, these conversations tend to be super interesting. If you find emotional conversations are new, just remember that the key is to be interested, make space, and care. If you ever notice that you (or your partner) are beginning to feel frustrated, defensive, or uncomfortable, make sure that you resolve that first since couples usually make progress when they are both feeling safe and comfortable.
Concluding the Conversation
Ultimately, this foundational conversation should help you to feel safe with one another – even if there isn’t a clear path forward to establishing aligned financial goals. That will come with time. Your initial goal is to understand where your partner is coming from, and to feel heard as an equal member of the money conversation in your partnership.
In our second post, we’re covering Conversations 2 & 3 that you should have with your partner, and how to navigate the “nuts and bolts” of setting up a financial life that supports your partnership.
You should always consult a financial, tax, or legal professional familiar about your unique circumstances before making any financial decisions. This material is intended for educational purposes only. Nothing in this material constitutes a solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities. Any mentioned rates of return are historical or hypothetical in nature and are not a guarantee of future returns. Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Future returns may be lower or higher. Investments involve risk. Investment values will fluctuate with market conditions, and security positions, when sold, may be worth less or more than their original cost.