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How to Talk About Money With Your Partner

Turn arguments about finances into mindful money conversations.

Key points

  • Money is the second leading cause of divorce.
  • Americans argue with their partner at least monthly about money.
  • As you begin communicating with your partner about money, you can have mindful conversations about money instead of arguments.

They say there are three things you don’t talk about: money, politics, and religion. I get it, but when it comes to your relationship with your partner, you need to speak openly and honestly about topics like these—especially money.

Adobe/Yakobchuk Olena
Source: Adobe/Yakobchuk Olena

As much as we don’t like to talk about it, money matters a lot. In fact, according to a recent survey, fighting about money is the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity. In addition, a Northwestern Mutual survey found that 41 percent of respondents said their financial anxieties impact their partners at least some of the time, causing financial disagreements.

After counseling individuals and couples for more than 25 years, I’ve discovered one of the main reasons that couples come to therapy is financial conflict causing relationship stress, financial anxiety, and financial mishaps that could be avoided through improved communication and collaboration.

Emotions surrounding money—especially shame, overwhelm, anger regarding debt, or panic and fear about not being able to pay for kids’ college or retirement—may be a barrier between spouses when talking about their finances. Financial avoidance is common, and costly. Dig deep, prioritize your relationship and have the courage to face finances together.

How to best talk about money with your partner

Step 1: Schedule a financially-focused date night

Schedule a time in advance so you both have time to come grounded and prepared. Consider ordering or cooking your favorite meal and getting your favorite dessert so you have something to look forward to after you review how you are doing with living within your budget and planning for upcoming expenses or goals.

Make it a monthly date or a shorter weekly check-in. By doing so, you can discuss what is working and what’s not, nip problems in the bud, and celebrate success. By consistently keeping these date nights on your calendar, you’re not only putting time, energy, and effort into your finances but keeping the lines of communication open.

Step 2: Keep an open mind

We all carry unique money mindsets as we come from different upbringings, cultures, and environments that helped shape how we think about finances. The “money scripts” we learned in childhood can often influence our current financial reality. As money may be a subject that is extra sensitive for your partner, honor their emotional experiences through empathy. Normalize and validate their feelings so they feel heard, known, and understood. Recognize what you don’t know and be willing to consider the perspective of your partner, and maybe even learn from them. Two heads are often better than one.

Step 3: Be assertive

Talking about finances may bring up issues from the past, whether a shared experience or a personal trauma. Try to stay in the present. Ask for what you need to hear, say “no” to what you don’t feel comfortable sharing yet, and be open to negotiation and compromise.

Express your feelings in clear, direct, and appropriate ways. For example, use "I" statements rather than "you" statements to reduce defensiveness and set healthy boundaries.

Assertive communication demonstrates respect for yourself and your partner. Communicate and agree upon financial boundaries or limits with others, including your children or extended family.

Step 4: Take baby steps to avoid overwhelm

Start by talking about daily spending, then work up to retirement and life savings conversations. Pace yourself. Often, it’s delving into these bigger topics without understanding your partner’s money mindset that causes defensiveness, arguments, and hostility.

Establishing systems for organizing and communicating about your finances is important to foster transparency, trust, and prevent financial infidelity.

Having a financial planner or advisor as a mediator can be very helpful if you and your partner have different financial styles—perhaps you are a saver and your partner is a spender. They can help ground you in reality and find a happy medium. Financial planning occurs in manageable baby steps: 1) establishing an emergency fund, 2) paying off debt, 3) investing for the future.

Step 5: Learn together

Starting a conversation about finances can be intimidating because many of us don’t know all the fancy terminology. I’ve seen in my practice that when one partner is financially literate and the other is not, this can lead to an imbalance of power and control in relationships that can lead to resentment, poor communication, and a lack of feeling like a team with a mutual money mission. Commit to learning and growing together.

Make it a point to utilize the financial literacy resources at your bank, credit union, investment firm, or debt consolidation agency. Read financial books, listen to money podcasts, or take a personal finance digital course together. Not only will this help you feel more confident about money matters, but it also makes you feel more comfortable talking to your partner about finances. The playing field will be more even and you will be more likely to function as a team: working together to achieve common goals, including fun ones, like vacations or buying a new car.

A takeaway

By being mindful when talking about money with your partner, you can manage emotions caused by financial distress. Financial and relational transformation happens as you learn how to communicate better with your partner and resolve disputes around money. Previous fights about money metamorphosize into mindful and productive conversations that can improve your finances and strengthen your relationship.

References

https://news.northwesternmutual.com/planning-and-progress-2018

https://www.ramseysolutions.com/relationships/money-marriage-communication-research

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