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Talking To Your Partner About Money

Do you know how to have productive conversations around your finances?

When it comes to talking with a spouse or partner about money, many people shy away. It can be scary—but it doesn’t have to be. Positive and frequent communication is key.

Talk Often

A great way to reduce the stress of talking about money is to discuss things frequently with your partner. Don’t wait for a financial crisis to talk! Some couples find it best to schedule regular discussions about money—say, every Sunday afternoon—while others take a more casual approach. However you and your partner decide to do it, make sure that it is a frequent topic in your relationship.

Some couples avoid talking about money because it is stressful and uncomfortable. Here are some tips on how to have these important conversations.

Discuss Goals and Values—Not Just Dollar Amounts

Money means different things to different people. For some, it represents security, power, or status. For others, it is the ability to buy things, travel, or start a business. It’s important to talk together about your long-term goals and what money means to both of you. It’s very likely that you’ll have different views about what money means, and talking about it will help you get on the same page. Don’t be afraid to go to a couples therapist or a financial professional to help with this discussion, if you need and have access to it.  Request a free counseling session with a financial expert

Even if your long-term goals are aligned, it is possible that your short-term values will still be different. A baking enthusiast may feel lucky to find vanilla beans on sale for $300 a pound, while their partner balks at the price tag and wants to buy a bottle of imitation extract for $3.99. Someone who loves clothes may know that a pair $175 shoes are a steal, while their partner—who shops exclusively at thrift stores—may disagree.

These are not solely issues of dollar amount, so much as they are about what each partner feels is important. Understanding what your partner values and making any necessary adjustments together will help you work out your budget and your finances.

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The Four Horsemen

Sitting down to take time and talk about money can be difficult. But disagreements about money don’t have to lead to lasting relationship problems. Healthy, respectful communication can assist in working out money issues.

Prominent family scientist and couples therapist John Gottman frequently lists four things that couples should avoid while communicating. He calls them the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” They are:

  • Criticism

    Criticizing is not the same as voicing a complaint or a critique. Criticism attacks the partner’s character or being. For example, a complaint may be “I’m feeling concerned about your IKEA spending yesterday. I thought we agreed to consult each other if we were going to spend more than $200.” A criticism, on the other hand, could look like “You overspent the entertainment budget again. Why do you always do that? You are so selfish! You don’t even care about me and how hard I’m working.” One addresses the issue at hand, the other attacks the partner’s character. Criticism frequently leads to defensiveness.

  • Contempt

    While criticism attacks your partner’s character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them. Contempt can be behaving disrespectfully, being sarcastic, rolling our eyes or using mimicking body language, scoffing, calling them names, etc. “You bought another silly video game? Are you kidding me? You are such a child.” Attacking a partner from a position of perceived relative superiority is terrible for a relationship, and will make discussing finances nearly impossible. Don’t do it!

  • Defensiveness

    We’ve all been defensive at some point; it’s usually a response to criticism. When we feel like we’ve been accused, we fight back and play the victim to get our partner to back off. “Yeah, well, you know how stressed I’ve been! I deserve something special. It’s not my fault you aren’t any fun.” Thing is, it doesn’t work—because it’s really a way of blaming your partner, and makes healthy conflict management impossible.

  • Stonewalling

    Stonewalling—usually a response to contempt—is when one partner shuts down, withdraws, and stops responding to the other. Stonewalling is a result of feeling physiologically flooded. However, ignoring the issue will not fix it. When we start to stonewall, we may not be able to think or respond logically and kindly. If that becomes the case, it is important to request a break in the conversation and pick it back up after 20 minutes—or more—to allow your body to calm down.

While most relationships will involve the Four Horsemen at some point, healthy communicators avoid them as much as possible and do more to repair them when they show up. If you catch your money conversations sliding into these bad habits, know that you have the power to turn them around and create a positive environment for discussing finances.

Sharing the Wealth (or not!)

How do you manage finances with a partner? Whether money comes from one or both people's incomes, various other streams of income revenue, or any inherited wealth, there are a different ways to approach money which help to avoid financial stress. None of these options are better than the other, it's all about what works best for you and them!

1. Combining all your finances

Creating a joint checking or savings account that both people use and sticking to an agreed-upon budget is a common way to handle two or more person households. Just make sure you both have agreed upon "rules" of how to use the accounts and open communication about each person's spending. Remember you're a team!

2.  Keeping finances completely separate

For two income households, this is when you keep separate bank accounts, budgets, and bills. There's no relying on the other financially, and each of you has control of your own money - including your retirement accounts and investments. Depending on your spending style this may work better for your relationship, however, sharing a home and not sharing finances can get tricky, so make sure you have agreed upon who will pay what for any shared expenses.

3. Split everything 50/50

You still have control over your own money, but you split every bill and contribute the same amount. A joint account for bills that you each put money into helps in this scenario. You each still have your separate accounts, with a shared expenses account used for paying things like housing, utilities, vacations, entertainment, etc.

4. Split bills by a percentage of your income

You still use a joint account for bills and shared expenses but the person that makes more money pays a larger percentage of the bills.

5. Combining finances, with fun money for each

This is when you put all your income into one joint account, but put a set amount aside for both you and your partner's accounts each month, as fun money. This could be proportional to income, or as equal amounts. Also, talk with your partner about what a "fun" expense is.

6. Single Income Households

Many have one partner who does not work outside of the home, and have one person who brings in income. Dividing home and work responsibilities can go hand in hand with your financial responsibilities. Finding a way to talk with your partner about how you will spend income, who will handle bills, and setting guidelines or general expectations will keep a relationship healthy and your finances strong.

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