Couples & Money: Those Dreaded Words, “We Need to Talk”

by Sophia Bera on February 19, 2014

In our society, money is often considered a taboo topic. We don’t want to deal with money problems, and we’ve been taught not to ask others about money because it’s “rude.”  Whether you like it or not, money makes the world go ‘round. (You didn’t think I’d miss the opportunity to link to a musical clip of Joel Grey & Liza Minnelli singing “Money” from Cabaret, did you?!?!).

Additionally, disagreements on money are one of the leading causes of conflict in relationships. Even if you don’t want to discuss money matters with other people, it’s obviously crucial that you learn to constructively, productively talk about money with your partner. When you understand each other and can get on the same financial page, your relationship will benefit and you’ll both be happier.

If you’re unsure how to start a financial conversation with your boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, or spouse, consider these tips on how to get started, and how to keep the conversation going in a way that is positive and effective.

Don’t Say, “We Need to Talk”

No one wants to hear their partner say the words, “We need to talk.” Think about it: how do you feel when someone says that to you? You immediately put your guard up because it’s foreboding; you assume something bad is coming. That’s why it’s so important to have ongoing conversations about money as opposed to starting every money conversation with these four scary words!

The best way to initiate a financial conversation is to start with the positive. Consider bringing up some goals you’d like to achieve together and then discussing what it will take to get you there. If you have any criticisms, try not to unleash them right away. If you do have concerns or your partner has a negative money issue to deal with, like debt, consider your own financial faults and freely admit them – then ask for help from your partner in finding a solution to a problem. This both paves the way to discuss other financial problems and shows that you’re not seeking to start a fight or be antagonistic.

Take Time to Listen, and Ask Questions

Even though you might have started the conversation, it’s important to let your partner speak as well. Allow them to share their hopes, dreams, and goals with you, and then ask questions. How can you both work to make this happen? What are the actionable steps you can take together? What’s Plan B? It’s all about open lines of communication. Encourage them to ask questions, as well, and plan on having these money talks on a regular basis (or as frequently as you need to have them).

Ways to Get the Conversation Started

Money Dates: I know couples that set aside 30-60 minutes every Saturday to talk about money. Whether it’s saving for an upcoming trip or paying down debt, it’s really important to have regular talks about money. The more often you have conversations about money, the more they become part of life and easier to discuss.

Money Walks & Talks: This is a great way of talking through money worries with your spouse while allowing nervous energy a place to go. It’s tough to talk about finances sometimes, and even more so if you feel like you’re trapped in the room and unable to do anything about a stressful situation.  By expressing concerns out loud while enjoying a little physical exercise, you may be better able to find a solution together. Things that once felt overwhelming start feeling manageable.

Talk About Goals & Values: We don’t just want money for the sake of having it. We want it because we think it will bring us closer to achieving our goals and dreams. So start off the conversation by talking to you and your partner value. What are your hopes and dreams? What financial steps do you need to take to make those dreams come true?

When It’s Time to Talk

Of course, you don’t necessarily need to delve into all this stuff on your third date – but there are some warning signs that should alert you to the fact that you and your partner need to have a financial conversation, and you need to have it soon:

  • If you are uncomfortable about some aspect of your partner’s financial life (student loans, credit card debt, lack of savings or planning for retirement).
  • If your partner’s money habits are having a direct impact on you.
  • If you’re considering getting married, cohabiting, or combining finances in some way, you must talk about each other’s money situations before you move to merge your money.

Don’t put off having important financial conversations. Trying to avoid issues – or worse, actively working to hide them – is only a recipe for disaster. Arguments and fights break out. By proactively handling questions and problems with money in a respectful way, you will only serve to strengthen your relationship and make it easier to deal with financial matters in the future. So don’t just sit there! Go and start you own financial conversation today.

For more Couples & Money talk, check out this guest post on “How to Talk About Money with Your Honey” that I wrote for the website PT Money.  And in honor of Valentine’s day, I was on the Chelsea Krost’s radio show talking about Balancing Love & Money!  Listen here.

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