Money issues are common in a partnership. Some couples deal with them easily, while statistics show, most couples do not. In fact, study after study has shown that money-related issues are the number two leading cause of divorce, behind only infidelity. Ultimately, how couples talk about money plays a significant role in the overall health and happiness of a relationship.
Disagreements, arguments, and fights don’t have to be the norm though when discussing money though. If you and your significant other need some help in keeping your financial discussions civil, read on for some suggestions for talking about this topic, without it causing a deep fissure in your relationship.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY - According to a Utah State University study (by Jeffrey Dew), couples who argued about money more than once a week had a 30 percent more chance of getting divorced than those that did not. Communication about money is critical, but sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The topic of money can be sensitive and fraught with emotional triggers, that can stem from deep-seated feelings of worthiness, value, or guilt. Make sure when you and your significant other discuss your finances, that you both agree to make it a dialogue that is calm, and productive and that you communicate without assigning blame.
A good way to open up a dialogue about money is to take both yourselves out of the story. Instead, share your individual narratives about money. Talk about how you both grew up and how money was viewed and treated within your families. Did this have any bearing on how each of you views and treat money today? Did one person grow up basically content, while the other watched their single mother work three jobs to keep the family afloat? These kinds of backgrounds can certainly motivate how someone thinks about finances, so take some time to understand where each of you is coming from before plotting your path forward.
Discussing finances doesn’t have to be drudgery. Consider injecting a little fun into your money talks. Make a date of it, away from kids or distractions by scheduling the time and going to a cafe together for example. Take your laptop or tablet, and devote this time to talking about your finances together. If you can commit to something like this once a month, you’ll stay on top of your finances better than most.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK - Your a team, so start acting like it. Instead of approaching money talks from a perspective of “you - me,” think about it in terms of “we.” What are your shared goals and what does the future you’d like to create together look like? Begin there and talk about what is needed of both you as a couple to achieve it. Write out a plan using ‘we’ instead of ‘you’ or ‘me.’ Take into consideration the differences and similarities you both bring to the table and embrace them and dive deeper into learning what makes each other tick. If one of you is a spender and one is a saver, try to understand the motivations of each, instead of being accusatory, which only ends up causing defensiveness and withdrawal.
Part of being a team involves working on a budget together. Besides just a monthly budget for groceries, bills, clothing and typical living expenses, work on your long-term budget together. Reference what your shared goals and dreams are. Consider opening shared savings accounts for each goal, such as a home purchase, vacations, or retirement. When you take the step to not only dream of the future you want together, but actually take the time to put into place steps and take actions to achieve those dreams, you’ll feel closer and more committed as a couple.
LISTEN - Often when we think we’re listening, we’re simply waiting for our turn to talk. This is where many money discussions become derailed with one or both partners not feeling heard. Put aside your views, opinions, criticisms, and critiques when your partner is talking. If, for example, there is a reason he or she is hesitant to devote 20% of your combined income to savings, listen to what the reason is for that. Is there a fear of some kind motivating that? Have they done their own calculations and determined that it’s not feasible? Do they feel that that money is best served by paying down debt first? Really commit to hearing each other out to understand the underlying motivations for each individual and work from there. To be an effective listener, practice only asking questions when the other person is speaking. No interjecting of ideas or thoughts; just questions. Once they’re done and have stated their point to their own satisfaction, then offer your side of the discussion. If you both practice actively listening to one another, you’ll both feel better about the conversation and the decisions you come up with, because you both will have felt heard and understood.
NO SECRETS - When people argue about money, often there is something unspoken that is motivating one or both individuals. If you’re trying to get clear with your partner about your shared finances and money in general, then keeping secrets from each other is nothing more than a ticking time-bomb. It will be difficult to keep the secret up for long and it will only serve to slowly eat at the foundation of trust you have. And once you lose trust, it becomes a slippery slope from there. Maybe one person feels shame about the debt they have and are very hesitant to address it. Perhaps they took out a loan that the other does not know about to fund their shopping habit. No matter what it is, if you’re going to work together and eliminate arguing about money, you must commit to putting all of your money and financial chips on the table; to be open and honest about where you both stand, so you can move forward as a team.
No matter what kind of partnership you’re involved in, if you’re building a life together, money is inevitably part of your relationship. Relationships take work and if you’re both committed to each other’s happiness and the success of your partnership, you want to make sure you're working as a team together. When you work to understand one another, listen to each other, and back up your goals and dreams with action, your shared life will be a successful one, and that’s the biggest win of all.