If Financial Communication Doesn’t Come Naturally, You’re Not Alone
Money conversations with your spouse are imperative when you want to achieve joint goals, and yet they don’t always come easily. Money is a very personal topic, and many people are not accustomed to discussing it. It can be downright perplexing when your spouse refuses to work on a budget with you, create financial goals and objectives, or talk about a habit that may need to be addressed. Perhaps they are actively avoiding or even refusing to discuss a specific issue, or maybe they simply fail to engage when you raise a topic. Regardless, if you want to jump-start money conversations with your spouse, it’s helpful to first begin with why they are practicing avoidance.
There’s almost always a root cause for tension about money in a relationship. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that almost one-third of adults with partners reported that money is a major source of conflict in their relationships. Your significant other’s feelings (or fears) about money may come from a myriad of experiences that may lead them to be non-communicative. Perhaps they have experienced a past financial failure, or feel financially unskilled, or they could even be keeping a financial secret.
If talking about money usually leads to conflict between the two of you, then pause to give some thought to what the underlying issues may be. While you may not arrive at a solution right away, it’s still important to determine the ‘why’ so you can move towards having money conversations with your spouse that are useful, if not entirely harmonious. With this in mind, approach the conversation in a general manner as opposed to focusing on a specific money issue. This may give you some insight into your spouse or partner’s general feelings about money. Here are six pointers to keep the conversation productive:
- Invite your partner to have a conversation and set a time and date for it, rather than springing the topic on them.
- Use inclusive “us” language that promotes and supports the two of you as allies and teammates.
- Avoid bringing up specifics so that you are not implying blame.
- Identify some shared goals and focus on them.
- Listen carefully to your partner and don’t interrupt or correct them.
- Maintain a calm demeanor and display openness to their thoughts.
If you believe that having this conversation will be too difficult, you might consider inviting a trusted third party to help facilitate. A financial advisor can often fill this role for a couple with multiple financial issues or planning matters to discuss.
Put the Focus on a Team Approach
Let’s dig into the second point above a bit more. It’s quite common for money conversations with your spouse to become contentious if you feel like you’re at odds, rather than on the same team. It’s also common for spouses to have different ideas and habits concerning spending and saving, organizing a budget, or using credit cards. This doesn’t mean you can’t successfully work together. It may just take a bit more effort – and more structured money conversations with your spouse – to learn how to take a team approach to accomplish your goals. It’s not just your finances that can benefit either. A 2021 survey by Fidelity Investments about couples and money found that couples who communicate well about money experience positive benefits in their overall interactions with one another.
As the two of you talk, make an effort not to lay blame or focus on previous mistakes or missteps. Bringing up the past or reminding them of your ongoing efforts to educate them about finances and money will most likely prove counterproductive. Bring the perspective of this being a fresh approach, where you can start anew and move forward together as a team. Talk about what might work best for the two of you, such as watching a video series or working together with a financial advisor who can help guide you toward improved financial literacy.
Initiate Solutions to Face the Challenges
You might think you’re keeping the peace by not addressing your partner’s lack of communication about money, but this is a misguided approach in the long run. It amounts to ignoring a problem that may only grow larger and be harmful as time goes on.
Though challenging at times, money conversations with your spouse are critical because they help ensure that the two of you participate together in your finances. If your partner expresses that following a budget will cause them anxiety and stress, and you therefore allow them to do as they please, you are really only reinforcing their ability to remain removed from the process. However, you need a household budget, and that takes two people who are willing to work as a team to meet both of your goals and create financial security.
It may be up to you to find a solution that will bring your partner to the table. Using the household budget as an example, perhaps you can re-work and streamline the spending categories such as dining out and entertainment, and identify a single dollar amount that is their monthly discretionary spending limit. You may want to consider working from a cash budget that basically eliminates the ease of using credit and debit cards so you can only spend the cash in your wallet.
Take Your Time with Your Approach
When you are the financially minded partner in the relationship, you might be very eager to have money conversations with your spouse. Remember to give your partner the grace to grow and become comfortable in their role. It takes patience, and it may be a slow process to build your partner’s willingness to talk about money and adopt a team mindset about household finances. There will likely be times when one or both of you will slide back into old habits and patterns. Try to be aware of these times and resist laying blame, bringing up former disputes, or shutting down altogether.
In fact, since we are all fallible, it can be helpful to be prepared for the inevitable course corrections on your journey together. A few phrases that may be helpful to use when it seems like money and marriage matters are going off-course:
- I don’t think either of us is comfortable with this situation, so let’s work together to get out of it.
- Let’s give ourselves some time to be thoughtful and write down why we’re feeling so frustrated right now.
- Let’s identify a goal that we share and are excited about and brainstorm together about how to achieve it.
It’s good to have a “reset plan” that works for both of you. Keep it handy and use it as needed so you can stay on a positive course as you manage money and marriage together.
Love and Money: Have Better Money Conversations with Your Spouse
While it can be frustrating to feel like you’re alone in the financial part of your relationship, remember that learning to talk about money with your partner is a process. Money conversations with your spouse won’t always come naturally, and they won’t always be comfortable. Persist, however, because money issues can impact many parts of your lives, and thus have a negative impact on other areas of your relationship. The tips in this article may help you gain some forward momentum in money conversations with your spouse but be sure to reach out to a financial advisor if you think you could benefit from professional guidance.
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