Couples should talk about a lot of things before getting too serious or long-term. One of those very important topics is money, and unfortunately too many couples don’t have a frank discussion about it. The problem with avoiding talking about each of yours approach to finances and money is it never gets an airing.
You could find yourself in a difficult or untenable situation in the future. And because we all need money to survive, you shouldn’t put the conversation off.
Let me start off by saying there’s no right or wrong way to approach finances. Some people are savers while others are spenders. Some people like to balance a checkbook while others don’t even know what a checkbook is, instead doing all of their banking online and through apps.
The key is to recognize your different approaches to money and work to understand them. By understanding your partner’s approach to money, you can find more effective ways to manage your money wisely.
Having said that, disagreements are bound to arise. Maybe she wants a new car while he would prefer they wait or she consider pre-owned ones. Maybe he thinks they need a tropical vacation, while she believes they can’t afford one. Maybe she wants a big-screen TV to watch the game, and he thinks the money would be better used by saving it. Just as with any argument among couples, the key is to argue fairly — and listen.
1. Find Common Ground
Sometimes an argument spins out of control, even when the couple agree on the major issues. It may be just that the emotional content has outweighed the topic itself. Past hurts are brought up, and before either of you realize it, the small disagreement has turned into a major blowout.
One way you can help alter course is to find areas of agreement, and reinforce those. For instance, “So it sounds like we both agree we need a new TV, it’s just a question of how much money we want to spend on it.”
2. Take Time to Consider Your Partner’s Point of View
It’s hard to take a time-out in the middle of an argument, yet most would benefit from doing so. When we’re in the heat of battle, it’s hard to actually listen and consider what your partner is saying to you. After all, when people feel like they’re being attacked, they put up the defenses — walling off two-way communication.
Even if you need to take a time-out, take the time to consider your partner’s point of view and try and see things from your partner’s eyes. For instance, “Hey, I sort of get what you’re saying with saving more money, but I just need some more time to think about it. Can we talk about this again later today when I’ve had more time to consider your point of view?”
3. Check Your Assumptions & Review Your History
Many of us come into money discussions believing our partner has basically the same background as we do in dealing with money. It might come as a surprise to learn your partner has never taken out a loan, or doesn’t understand why paying one credit card with a cash advance on another is not a good money strategy. Having a frank discussion about responsible money management is key. Some people see money as a finite resource, to be carefully saved, while others have a more liberal relationship with it.
Just as most couples talk about past relationships (and what we’ve learned from them), it’s a good idea for couples to talk about their history with money early on. Did you ever have to declare bankruptcy? That’s akin to acknowledging being treated for an STD. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it is something that helps the two of you be on the same page moving forward.
4. Money Skills Can be Learned
Like most skills — including improving your communication in a relationship — money skills can be learned, as long as a person is willing. Balancing a checkbook or just learning to keep tabs on how much money you have coming in versus how much you’re spending can go a long way to becoming more responsible with finances. If your partner is more careless with money, this may be a good time to suggest he or she learn to be a little less so. There are so many money and banking apps available today to help make this easy — and even fun!
5. Let the Past Remain in the Past
One of the worst behaviors couples engage in when they argue is to bring up past episodes of poor judgment or decision-making. This rarely results in the intended impact on the other person, instead just making them feel bad about themselves and even more angry at you for reminding them of it.
We’ve all made mistakes — especially with money. Let the past live in the past, and focus on the key problem or issue at hand. If it seems like your partner is repeating a pattern of poor money behavior, maybe money management isn’t their strongest life skill. Consider divvying up responsibilities differently so they have less likelihood of repeating that pattern in the future.
6. Play to Your Strengths
On that note, if you recognize you’re not a strong money manager, consider turning over some of the responsibilities in this area to your partner. One less thing to worry about, and if your partner is agreeable, one more thing they feel like they are helping out in the relationship. This works for virtually anything in our lives — play to your strengths, and take a little burden off of your partner.
Always keep some active hand in your own money, however. Keep tabs on your own checking account and, if you’re in a long-term relationship, the shared bank account. Always have your own credit card in just your name, to maintain your own credit rating. There’s a difference between allowing someone to help you with an area of your life and giving up all interest and control of it.
7. Waiting Isn’t a Bad Thing
When a disagreement boils down to two different preferences about a purchase (or the size of a purchase), one great strategy is to just put it off for a month. Very few things in life need an immediate decision, and most money matters fall into this category. If you don’t agree on a big purchase — such as a house — forcing it through is likely to result in one person feeling very unheard and upset. Both people need to be nearly 100 percent on board with a big purchase or financial decision before it is made.
Even waiting on a house can be a good thing, as it gives you more time to save for the down payment. And maybe gives you a better bargaining position, because the thing has been for sale that much longer.
8. Get a Second Opinion
Sometimes we’re too close to a financial decision, or it has become emotional to us for some reason (such as reminding us of past hurts). Again, taking a time-out from the argument is a good strategy while seeking a second opinion from a trusted friend or family member. Although many people don’t like to discuss finances with others, sometimes having an objective set of eyes on the situation may help you either see the other person’s point of view, or help clarify your own feelings and position on the matter. Some people even turn to a financial advisor in order to help sort out their finances and future financial planning.
9. Finding a Compromise
As in most disagreements, finding a compromise is usually the path to long-term happiness. If one person is always losing arguments, that could lead to resentment and hurt feelings that last long after the argument ends. And usually the compromise in money matters is simpler than most people realize. For instance, “Look, I want to go on vacation too, we both could really use one! How about instead of going to the Caribbean this year, we save up for a nicer trip down there next year? This year, we could either do something closer to home — like a long weekend getaway up the coast — or carve out a week for a ‘staycation’. What do you think?”
Neither of you may be entirely satisfied, but most of the time we are happier in making such a compromise than in having one person force their viewpoint and opinion on the other.
Money, like children, is an important discussion to have in any long-term relationship. The sooner you get it over with, the better your relationship’s future will be.