Relationships and money are undeniably intertwined. Regardless of what point of a relationship you are at; there is an element of money underlying it that gets a bit more complicated as time goes on. When you start dating someone, there is the inevitable first dates with the “who pays” awkwardness and then the gift giving starts. By the time a couple is getting engaged and married, many money routines feel set in stone. It is never too late, however, to evaluate your relationship with regards to money. Here, we will take a deeper dive into relationships and money. We will explore why it matters, suggest ways to communicate and give some creative ideas to make it work.
Why it matters
Why does it matter? The results of a 2017 Ramsey Solutions survey of 1000 adults in the United States showed that money is the number one issue couples fight about. This is hardly a surprise as anecdotal evidence stating as much has been around for quite some time. Why is it relevant? The more discussions you have with your spouse or significant other around money the more comfortable you will be talking about it, leading to more exploratory conversations about your goals for your money. That is significant. The survey also found that 94% of couples who said they had a “great marriage” discuss money dreams with their spouse. On the flip side of the coin, the American Psychological Association has found that arguments couples have about money are “more intense, more problematic and tend to remain unresolved.” Discussing money in your relationship matters deeply to the health of your relationship.
How to communicate
Since it is clear that discussing money is instrumental in a solid relationship, it is helpful to have some tools for communication. First, the American Psychological Association suggests that people understand that we all inherit attitudes, beliefs and values from those around us, especially our parents. Recognize this in both yourself and your partner. Start discussing money early in your relationship and often. The more you discuss a topic the less uncomfortable it will become. Discuss your past relationship with money, your current status and what you hope your future looks like.
Remember during the ongoing discussion process that you and your partner are on the same team. While one person might take the lead and act as “coach”, your objectives should be the same. It makes no sense to argue with your teammate, then. It is counterproductive. Work together to find common ground and commonality in your approaches. You are both vested in the success of your relationship.
Ensure that both parties understand what is happening with the finances. Oftentimes we see one spouse who has done all of the finances for so long the other has no idea what is going on. We have seen the detriment this can bring when there is a death or divorce. Both parties need to understand where things stand and what is happening in order to have a healthy money relationship. If possible, both should be involved to some extent in the execution of your money plan.
If possible, use a fiduciary financial advisor as part of your communication toolkit. A financial advisor can assist through the discovery phase and gathering qualitative data what is important to each party and can help to set expectations around how to reach goals. Regular reviews and check-ins assist with continuing the conversation and gauging how close you are to reaching your goals.
If you still aren’t able to get on the same page and money is continuing to cause stress in your relationship, consider using a marriage and family therapist trained in finances. These therapists can be of immense help and can guide you through what you are looking to get out of your money discussions with your spouse. There is no shame in asking for help and outside perspective in the safe and confidential walls of a therapist’s office.
Ways to facilitate communication
Since communication is essential, here are some ideas to get the conversation started:
Have a regular “money date”. Make it fun. Start out like you are just dating. Ask questions, get to know one another better. Listen. Even if you have known each other and your families for years, listen to their thoughts, hopes and dreams and put aside your assumptions and notions. For example, here are some great questions to ask:
- How did your parents handle money? How did they handle arguments about it? What did you like about their style? Would you change anything if you were in their shoes?
- Are there some things you would like to accomplish with money in your lifetime? In ten years? In five? This year? What are the most important things on that list to you? Why? What are goals we have together in those timeframes?
- What are some ways we can better come to agreement on our spending and savings habits? How do we both proactively monitor our progress toward those goals?
Get an inspiration board. Put it somewhere that you can see it regularly. There is a reason inspiration boards work, visual reminders can be a powerful symbolization of your dreams.
Put things on the board you would like to do – both together and separately. A map for travel? A picture of a golf course? Fancy restaurants? A new home? Put it on the board.
Discuss your vision board. It won’t be hard to tell when one of you has a new idea when there is a new picture up! It is a low-pressure way to start a discussion.
Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate your successes! Have you gone a full month without a money argument? Cheers! Have you made one of your goals come true? Recognize it and congratulate each other. You’ll be well on your way to a relationship with money (and each other) that is happier, healthier and more fruitful in no time.
Klonz, Brad PsyD. CFP®, and Mary Gresham PhD. “Happy Couples: How to Avoid Money Arguments.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/helpcenter/money-conflict.aspx.
Ramsey, Dave. “Money, Marriage, and Communication – from Ramsey Solutions Research.” Daveramsey.com, Dave Ramsey, 2017, www.daveramsey.com/research/money-marriage-communication.