For many couples, that something is the current recession. Now that money is tight, jobs less certain, and raises and advancement less likely, many couples are having to finally face their differences in values and habits around money. The Crowleys and the Browns bumped along financially as people do until it became clear that it wasn’t going to work anymore. Fears about the recession or realization that the money coming in didn’t match what needed to go out precipitated a crisis for both couples.

There are lots of articles out there about how to handle money. Like the rest of us, these couples know the drill. Make a budget. Keep track of what comes in and what goes out. Pay down debt. Get rid of high interest credit cards. Most adults know what they are supposed to do. Knowing what we’re supposed to do usually isn’t the problem. It’s the underlying issues that put good people into a bad standoff around financial matters.

Changing things means surfacing those issues. In order to do that, people have to feel safe. Both need to be willing to agree that their current financial situation is their shared responsibility. Both got their family into the situation by either actively avoiding the issue or by passively accepting avoidance as the way to go. It’s going to take willing teamwork by both to change the way finances are handled.

Four Steps for Change

  1. Make a pact that there will be no blaming, shaming, criticizing, or putting each other down during any discussions around money. You are working to be on the same team, solving a mutual problem; not on different teams trying to best each other.

  2. Agree that there will be absolutely no secrets around money. Hiding assets or expenditures is a kind of lying and good relationships are never built on lies.
  3. Most difficult of all: Do some sincere and deep self-reflection. Ask yourself what is preventing you from being a fully participating partner in money matters. You may not be able to figure it out all at once. Set aside time to talk with each other about the hidden issues, however embarrassing they may be. Be there for each other. Remember that issues are usually hidden because they are painful, unattractive, or loaded with unresolved fears. When couples can listen to each other with empathy, they can begin the process of making change.
  4. Don’t try to change everything at once (unless you really have to). Figure out a few changes you can make and give each other lots of support for doing them.

As painful as it might be, facing financial issues together doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be an opportunity to grow up as individuals and grow as a couple. Taking charge of your own issues about money and learning how to work as a team around financial matters can deepen your relationship and give you a shared sense of purpose.

The Crowleys and the Browns are works in progress. Because they are committed to being together, they are facing their fears and supporting each other in making changes. It hasn’t been easy but both couples are working hard to develop a united approach to money matters.

(*Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect people’s privacy.)