Money Talks

How To Have The Conversation Of A Lifetime

For couples, often the most important conversations about money are also the toughest.

When you move in with a partner, what has been a primarily romantic relationship soon becomes a financial one. You now have to share the cost of living and your spending decisions affect not just you, but your significant other as well. Two sets of attitudes, beliefs, and philosophies about money come into daily contact—and sometimes daily conflict—especially when you first move in together. You may find yourself wondering “What if I’m judged for being a spender? Or a penny pincher?” We’d rather not risk the bliss of having just taken a big step in our relationship. So often, we just avoid talking about it.

But avoiding the hard conversations can lead to arguments and misunderstandings in the future. And you miss out on learning about a fascinating side of your partner, shaped by their own personal history.

Our most personal beliefs and values with respect to money are shaped by our histories, the experiences and stories of our childhood, youth, and young adulthood. For me, it was watching my single-mother struggle to pay the bills. My mother was always thinking creatively, whether it was renting out parking spots in our driveway, cleaning houses, or teaching weekend swimming lessons. Watching her, I developed a strong sense of economic independence and always had the feeling that I could, and should, be responsible for paying my own bills. When she couldn’t afford to buy me the clothes I wanted, I got my first job at 13, working as a dishwasher at a local bakery and café.

Now these formative experiences affect how I interact with my husband. It’s important to me that I contribute to our shared expenses and that I take responsibility for meeting my own financial needs, even if there are times when I earn less than he does. But because my instinct is to approach finances individually, I have to work harder to ensure that I’m communicating with him and working with him to plan, problem solve, and make decisions about our money as a team.

Photo by Ben Rosett

Early in our relationship, I interpreted my husband’s desire to track which of us paid for what shared expense, however small, as ungenerous. But through deeper discussion, I began to understand that this behavior arose from his own experiences, born out of having watched his family overcome their own financial struggles and by overcoming his own. And it was because of his desire to proactively track our finances that we started an ongoing discussion about how to better manage our money together. That discussion ultimately led me to found Jointly.

It’s worth pushing through the awkwardness surrounding financial conversations to get to the heart of things in our relationships: What shapes our own and our partner’s most personal beliefs and values with respect to money? How do these attitudes determine our dreams? And how does our experience with, and approach to, managing our finances help or hurt our ability to achieve those dreams together?

Several months before we got married, we took a drive, and I asked my husband what was most important to him when it comes to finances. I wanted to know his concerns and his goals, and I shared my answers to the same questions. Sharing these perspectives and the stories that shaped them gave us a better understanding of how our experiences formed our financial habits, beliefs, and philosophies.

It was an important conversation that helped me to understand the “why” behind my partner’s approach to financial decision-making. This was a revelation; yet, it took us over six years to start having this discussion properly! And now that we have, it’s clear that it’s a conversation that needs to be ongoing. Like a good marriage, this conversation lasts a lifetime.