Legal and Finance
Couples Talking Money
As an employee assistance program counselor, I meet with a lot of couples. One thing I’ve learned is that money can be the biggest stressor in relationships.
Finances shouldn’t be taboo
As couples become serious, they tend to disclose their feelings on personal goals, family, relationship expectations, boundaries, life experiences and children. However, discussing financial issues is often seen as taboo.
That’s counterintuitive, as stress stemming from finances can put people at risk for physical and mental health issues. It can also torpedo a relationship.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Experiencing and working though these conflicts can be a healthy opportunity for growth.
Common financial issues
Many conflicts that strain a relationship indicate the need for better communication. Some common examples:
- Disagreements on lifestyle. For example, one partner has expensive tastes that can’t be supported by the household income.
- Frequent instances of overdrawn accounts, seeking loans or not being able to balance financial obligations.
- One partner having total control over finances while the other is passive.
Sources of conflict
Some areas of conflict can be especially challenging and require solutions that go beyond basic communication. They include:
Money styles: Often, one person values spending while the other is a saver, or one seeks to eliminate debt while one accumulates it. A common solution is to set up a joint account for bills and a separate account for spending. Merging accounts can help couples feel cohesion and a sense of teamwork. Joint accounts also simplify the process of paying for joint expenses.
Avoidance: Many couples tend to avoid talking about financial issues and shut down. This can be toxic to a relationship. If this sounds like you, it’s important to assess your psychological relationship with money. For most of us, attitudes about finances were modeled by our families, sometimes leading to notions that money equates with self-worth, financial discussions are to be avoided or men handle the finances. Understanding your psychological relationship with money allows you to be open and honest about how you view financial matters with yourself and your partner.
Deception: Sometimes one or both partners are not transparent about debts, income, savings or personal savings planning. Deception is rooted in insecurity, guilt and shame. It’s important to normalize the fears you or your partner have about being honest with finances. If you can’t talk honestly about this, there’s a strong probability that there are other issues being withheld.
Children: It could be impulse buys to reinforce positive behavior, paying for sports teams or major life transitions. Many couples resolve issues related to the price of raising children by being proactive and having an agreed-upon budget. Parents who practice this also teach lessons on impulse control, work ethic and the importance of money.
How to talk money with your partner
Ideally, conversations about finances should begin early in a relationship, but it’s never too late to start.
What do these conversations look like? Here’s what I recommend:
- Have regular discussions, up to an hour a week, face to face.
- Topics could include creating or adjusting a spending plan, or delving into long-term financial planning. At a minimum, have written long-term individual and joint goals, a personal savings plan, and knowledge of your debts and assets.
- Both partners should feel empowered to be completely transparent.
- Conversations should not be judgmental, and you should actively listen to your partner while reinforcing healthy behavior.
- Instead of immediately tackling daunting challenges, make small goals that are measurable and realistic.
- Larger long-term goals often include paying down debt and accumulating wealth (remember, compound interest is your friend).
- Make it fun! Take time to enjoy the journey with your partner and reward yourselves for meeting smaller goals. It’s easy to get lost in the bigger picture and forget to acknowledge successes.
Take control of your financial future
Finances may be the most difficult topic to navigate in a relationship. If you can do so successfully, you can tackle just about anything.
If you think you and your partner need more guidance, check to see if your employer has an employee assistance program. Bestcare EAP counselors frequently work with companies to provide their services to employees.