With April 15th & the stress of tax season behind us (most of us anyway), the topic of money may still be lurking in the shadows. It is common for money to be left in the dark, along with other hot button issues, like religion & sex. Couples and money can often be a recipe for argument and struggle, but it can also be a challenge for us as individuals. The money struggles in relationships are not as much about account balances and spending habits, but more about the meanings attached to money. Those meanings are often connected to difficult feelings of shame, guilt, & inadequacy, making it a very unpopular conversation topic. Despite it’s significance, we often choose not to discuss money, its meaning, and its role in our lives. So how can we encourage discussion around this daunting, yet crucial subject?
By familiarizing ourselves with what money represents to us, we can develop a greater understanding of our patterns & behaviors with money, as well as find compassion for the ways our partner relates to money. Just as we adapt various defense mechanisms in response to challenging life events, we develop associations with money depending on what was seen or experienced growing up. Consider what comes up for you when you reflect on your own beliefs and attitudes around money. Do you feel a certain amount of money can provide you with the status you desire, does it contribute to your feeling of safety or stability? It can help to begin considering how or if money was talked about in your home growing up. Was it a topic that was argued about? Was it one that was never discussed? Was one parent a spender & the other a saver? Did your family have a lot of money or did you struggle to make ends meet? We may adapt by going in the extreme opposite direction of a parent or by even by following in their footsteps. Whatever the case, it is beneficial to first connect to your own experience with money before understanding where your partner is coming from. It will also aid in more clearly expressing your perspective to your partner.
As a couple decide on a time that you will dedicate to talk about your finances. Agree that each of you will do some self-reflecting about your own fears, values, & experiences with money (it can be helpful to write it down). It is important that each person is calm & open, so consider outside stressors when scheduling a time. For instance, the day before a deadline, the week of preparing for a trip, or when guests are visiting from out of town are probably not going to be times when each person can remain calm & avoid distractions. Also decide on the length of the discussion. It is better to have a start & end time you each agree to so that the conversation doesn’t go on and on to where one or both dreads having to revisit the topic in the future.
When talking about any difficult subject it is useful for couples to remain curious, compassionate, and open. You can take turns sharing your childhood messages about money. Ask one another questions or reflect back what you are hearing to let one another know you understand what is being shared. Hopefully this conversation will bring each of you some insight into the other’s relationship with money & you can then begin talking about the concerns you might have about your partner’s money style in relation to your own. Also, acknowledge what you admire or appreciate about your partner’s approach to finances. Positive statements can help couples feel safe enough to continue talking about challenging issues.
Once each of you have shared & heard your money stories you can begin talking about goals for the future. The first goal might simply be to schedule a regular time (weekly/monthly) to talk about finances. Once this accountability is established, each person can create a list of 3-5 short term & long term goals you’d like to work towards as you start making a budget or plan for the future. Begin creating a budget and incorporating the shared goals that show up on both of your lists. This will allow for greater collaboration and motivation as you begin creating financial plans that will impact you as individuals and as partners.
There are, of course, many issues related to couples and money and some are more individualized than others. These tips are meant to help you as an individual and as a partner become more open and less fearful of talking about a topic we often avoid. Once you begin shedding light on the subject, it becomes less scary and more approachable, especially if you can come together as a team and address it together.