Money is a touchy subject, and talking about it with your partner can be super stressful.
A study released in 2015 by the American Psychological Association found almost three-quarters of Americans experience financial stress at least some of the time, and nearly a quarter of us feel extreme financial stress. No wonder financial discussions can lead to relationship fights.
According to another study conducted in 2016 by Ameriprise Financial, approximately 31% of all couples — even the happiest ones — clash over their finances at least once a month. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Correctly executed, financial discussions can be constructive to a relationship rather than detrimental.
Here are a few strategies for spearheading more productive conversations about money.
Understand Your Financial Values
Everyone has a unique relationship with money. If you have a clear understanding of what money means to you, it will not only help you communicate this to your partner, it will give you insight into how their values differ from your own. By “financial values” we mean, what’s your philosophy when it comes to spending? Is it more of a “live in the moment” type spending or a “save for a rainy day” type spending? If you don’t understand your own relationship with money, how can you explain your views to your partner?
To get a clear understanding of each other’s values, you should both answer the following questions:
- What were money conversations like in your household growing up?
- Do you feel like money should be enjoyed today or saved for the future? Why?
- Do you feel like you are a good money manager? Why or why not?
- What type of things do you feel are always a good value? (Travel, time with friends, self-improvement, etc.)?
- What type of things do you feel are a waste of money? (Name brand products? New cars? A house?)
Then discuss these answers with your partner, preferably when both are you are relaxed and well rested.
Show Empathy for Your Partner’s Financial Values
If your partner is talking openly about their money hardships in the past and how they view money today, try to be empathetic. Money is a difficult subject, because we all have different (and often difficult) relationships with it. It doesn’t mean that any one way is inherently wrong, but both parties may need to make compromises to meet your goals as a couple. And this makes understanding your partner’s views even more important.
For example, let’s say you prioritize saving, while your partner prioritizes spending time with family and friends. Neither of those values are wrong, so you could work to prioritize both by setting up a budget for going out with friends and also committing to saving a certain amount every month. Try to find a solution that works for both of you.
Practice Active Listening
Everyone thinks they are a better listener than they actually are. According to Entrepreneur.com, studies show that the average listener only retains about 25% of what they hear. This is because most of us don’t practice active listening skills. One key active listening skill is to ask more questions. Another is to actually pay attention, rather than thinking about your rebuttal the entire time someone is speaking. And take time to reflect on what your partner said before giving your opinion.
Partner 1: I’ve always valued saving for the future.
Partner 2: Why do you think saving is so important?
Partner 1: Well, my mom was not the best with money when I was growing up. We struggled a lot because of this, so I know how important it is to have an emergency cushion.
Partner 2: That’s understandable, especially considering how stressful that must have been for you as a kid. I didn’t really worry about money back then, because my parents handled it. So I’m all about spending in the here and now. And travel has always been a big way for me to grow as a person and check items off of my bucket list.
Not Active listening:
Partner 1: My financial values have always been about saving for the future.
Partner 2: My financial values are about enjoying life today. I want to live for today, not tomorrow. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow! What happens to your savings then?
Notice the difference in these two talks. In the active listening conversation, Partner 2 acknowledges that they heard what Partner 1 said and asked them to go deeper into their thought process. This not only makes Partner 1 feel validated, but it gives Partner 2 a better understanding of why Partner 1 thinks this way. Partner 1 will also be more likely to practice active listening when Partner 2 explains their point.
In convo two, it’s different. Before having a good understanding of why Partner 1 feels the way they do, Partner 2 is already proclaiming why their way is better. As a result, Partner 1 may feel attacked, and may not completely hear what Partner 2 has to say.
This is important when it comes to any disagreement. Name-calling is a non-starter. It’s important to communicate how you feel without hurting anyone on purpose.
When you buy something like a TV without consulting me, it makes me feel like you don’t consider my feelings in big money decisions.
Not fighting fair:
What are you, stupid? You know how I feel about dumb purchases! Why didn’t you ask me before buying a giant TV? I just can’t trust you with money!
Be Solution Driven Instead of Playing the Blame Game
On the same note, make sure you understand that the goal of this conversation is to gain a better understanding of each other’s mindset about money, not to find someone to blame. (And not necessarily to convince someone to convert to your way of thinking.) Before you can start talking about compromise, you have understand where each person is coming from. Make the goal of your first discussion simply being able to grasp your partner’s financial values.
Money fights will happen. The question is, will you be prepared to speak productively about money when issues come up? Remember, practice makes perfect, so practice talking about money. (Literally, even. Run a few test conversations with yourself in the mirror before approaching your partner.) Financial decisions are less frightening when you have open communication and solid plans. And eventually, you may perceive those conversations as an opportunity to learn more about this amazing person you’ve chosen to be with, rather than an almost certain precursor to a fight.