Financial Advice for Couples: How to Talk About Money With Your Partner
If you’re in a relationship long enough, there’s a simple law of nature: arguments over seemingly insignificant things will arise, and probably more often than you’d like.
But sometimes it’s not just a gripe over unwashed dishes or one partner being a little too eager over the original Netflix series you promised you’d watch together. There are times that a fight digs at something much deeper, leaving you to wonder about your perceived compatibility for one another. One topic with the power to do just that? Money.
According to a 2018 study conducted by Ramsey Solutions, money is not only the number one issue couples fight about, but also the second-leading cause of divorce in the U.S. behind infidelity. While it’s obvious and straightforward why cheating on your partner would lead to problems, financial disagreements can manifest themselves in many different ways.
Below, a few experts chimed in on the topic of money and relationships, shedding light on the right way to talk about finances in order to avoid fussing and fighting between partners.
What Leads to Financial Disagreements in a Relationship?
Our views on money are determined by a few factors, a major one being the financial behaviors modeled to us by our parents. Whether or not mom and dad afforded you an allowance, thereby subtly teaching you how to budget money; whether they exhibited saving or spending behaviors, such as stashing money away in a college fund for you, or bringing you along on regular shopping sprees — all of this had some effect on the way you handle your money as an adult.
Recent research also suggests the way our brains are wired plays a role in determining whether we’re more likely to be a saver or a spender. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2007 looked at an area of the brain called the insula, which activates when we experience something we consider unpleasant. When it comes to money, researchers determined that people with more activity in their insula — those less likely to be able to tolerate something they consider unpleasant — tend to be savers, while those with less tend to be spenders.
In terms of relationships, the cocktail-like makeup of both you and your partner’s financial tendencies don’t always blend as well as you’d like them to. It’s not that those who tend to be savers and those who tend to be spenders can’t make it work. In reality, it has more to do with scarcity (to borrow a term from economics).
As one financial advisor told me, “For most people, other than the Beyonces and the Jay-Zs of the world, money is limited. So if priorities don’t match, it causes frustration on both parties’ parts.”
That same advisor said many couples struggle because one person wants to plan for the future, while the other doesn’t think it’s important or cares. That approach, they said, can leave one partner feeling like they’re trying to carry all of the weight themselves, as if they’re trying to push the rock up the hill on their own.
Looking at it from a slightly different perspective, there are few things more personal than how someone handles their money. As relationship expert and transformational coach Thomas Edwards Jr. explains, “When we reveal our money values, experiences, and desires, we feel we are sharing the deepest and most vulnerable parts of ourselves. If any part is seemingly judged, we immediately feel rejected. Naturally, going into any conversation about money, our defenses are up. Add the layer of intimate relationships and it becomes even more sensitive.”
What to Do When You and Your Partner Don’t See Eye to Eye on Finances
As with many problems that crop up in relationships, the best way to tackle financial disagreements is through communication. Talking it out may sound easy enough… that is, until you remember the personal aspect of money that we just touched on. When you actually sit down to hash it out, you have to enter the discussion from a place of neutrality without throwing out accusation after accusation.
“When you broach the subject of finances, explain why having things a certain way is important to you,” says dating and confidence consultant Nick Notas. “Tell them how you imagine managing your finances together in the future. And then reassure your partner that you’re open to their thoughts as well and want to find a compromise that satisfies both of you.”
In all instances, it’s key to refrain from coming off as judgemental. How best to do this? Be direct but compassionate, making it clear that you’re bringing up the subject of money for the betterment of the relationship.
“Don’t say, ‘You need to get on the same page as me,’ or ‘We need to talk about your spending habits,’” advises Notas. “Use ‘I’ to describe how you feel, instead of using ‘you’ to describe everything you feel they’re doing wrong. You want them to empathize with you, not feel like they’re being attacked and have to defend themselves.”
These kinds of conversations can definitely be uncomfortable, but one thing you can do to strip away that awkwardness is to make talking about money more of a regular thing in your relationship. Instead of bringing up financials only when the two of you are hitting a snag, try creating a continuous open dialogue around money.
“One thing my wife and I do is have a weekly meeting where we talk about money, among other things,” says Edwards Jr. “We keep it focused on facts, and when feelings come up, we hold space for them and do our best to support the processing without judgement. It’s not easy, as our individual values around money are strong, but having the space to practice conversations about money regularly helps. The more you talk about money, the less of a deal it becomes, which means the less triggered you’ll feel.”
When Talking About Money WIth Your Partner Just Isn’t Working
If you and your partner get to a point where trying to discuss differences over money only leads to fights, it may be time to look outside the relationship for some help. Couples counseling is always an option, of course, but for those who might consider that “extreme,” there are other ways to go about it.
If you don’t already have one, contacting a financial advisor that can objectively assess your situation and lay bare whether or not your concerns over your partner’s financial habits are reasonable could certainly be a beneficial route to take. Other good options include signing up for a class on financial literacy or making a habit of listening to educational podcasts.
Whichever route you take, the critical thing to keep in mind is that you and your partner need to attempt that solution together, and you need to approach the process with an open mind toward actually making some progress.
You may never be on exactly the same page financially, but if that is the case, you do need to at least get to a place where the circles on you and your partner’s financial Venn diagram overlap more often than not.
As for the spaces outside those lines, the parts of your financial philosophies that will simply never intersect? Well, it’s up to you to determine how much of a deal breaker they truly are.