Money and Marriage: How to Talk About Money with Your Spouse
Reginald A.T. Armstrong • Financial Wellness
If you’ve ever been afraid to have the money talk with your spouse or if conversations about money in your household leave you frustrated, you’re not alone. When it comes to money and marriage, talking about finances in a relationship can be stressful. It’s an uncomfortable subject for many people, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Far too many couples consider money a taboo topic, but tiptoeing around the issue can cause more harm than good, often contributing to conflicts and dishonesty. From bickering over hiding the occasional splurge to blowout arguments over full-fledged financial infidelity, money problems are a leading reason for divorce.
Here are five steps to having the money talk with your spouse in a manner that brings you together rather than pushing you apart.
1. Look Into the Financial Past
Everyone enters into marriage with their own ideas and experiences related to money, which influences their habits, goals, and overall attitude about money. When two people come together with different backgrounds and outlooks, finances often become a bone of contention. This is why it’s essential to learn how to talk about money with your partner in a way that respects their perspective and moves you both closer to common ground.
If one person is far thriftier or spendier than the other, there’s probably a reason for that. If you have differing orientations towards money, it can help to look into your financial pasts to identify what shaped your views and behavior.
Maybe you grew up poor and your partner grew up wealthy or vice versa. Perhaps you feel anxious about spending money because it was scarce during childhood, but your spouse is eager to buy nicer things for the first time. Maybe your father was a financial wiz and mother knew how to stretch a dollar, while your spouse’s parents ‘lived large’ from paycheck to paycheck.
Perhaps you’ve lost your job in the past and remember the struggle of navigating financial hardship as an adult, but your spouse never has.
Whatever your experience with money has been, there’s a good chance it’s influencing your current money choices. Knowing more about yourself and your spouse will help you better understand why you each do what you do and why you each want what you want.
2. Embrace Vulnerability
Many people like to talk about money as if the only factor is simple math. They want to believe it’s nothing more than a resource, earned and spent, to be discussed objectively. But reality often looks very different. Whenever you discuss money, emotions come into play. In many cases, it’s a highly-charged issue that can spark fear, uncertainty, or anger. We all have expectations around money. Unmet expectations often stem from assumptions and lead to disappointment.
Listening without lecturing is the way to go. Nobody wants to feel let down, let their significant other down, feel blamed or belittled, or have rules imposed upon them.
When talking about finances with your partner, it’s important to be open, honest, and accepting while acknowledging your feelings and the feelings of your spouse. In money and marriage, it’s helpful to admit your shortcomings, failures, and past money mistakes so you can both start with a clean slate and grow from there. It takes courage and strength to move forward together with confidence.
3. Look at the Numbers
Once you’ve delved into your financial past, confronted your emotions, and recommitted to taking the next steps as a team, it’s time to dive into the numbers. Prepare yourself to be surprised but make a decision in advance to talk through everything without judgment.
Pull out all of your financial statements, look carefully at where your money is going, how it’s being spent, and what you have saved versus invested. You’re looking for spending patterns, money leaks, and opportunities to shift how you are handling your finances. Once you have a clear idea of what’s coming in, what’s going out, what you really want, and what you truly need, you can begin to create a realistic budget and a plan.
4. Get on the Same Page
While it’s important to honor your dreams and goals in life, it’s equally important to recognize that marriage means entering into a shared financial future. There are things you will want to accomplish together and things you’ll want to achieve individually that all require the other person’s buy-in.
Do you want to pay off your mortgage early and become financially free, or are you more interested in stretching to buy your ultimate dream home? Would you rather pay off your credit card debt this year, or do you feel like your family could use a vacation? Are you going to finance your child’s college education, or are they on their own?
Every day, questions will come up concerning money and marriage, and you’ll always have decisions to make—some big, some small—that add up to the big financial picture. Getting on the same page, setting shared money goals, and agreeing on criteria for the decisions you make together will make a difference.
5. Follow a Plan
After you’ve laid the groundwork for talking about finances by exploring your backgrounds, embracing vulnerability, looking at the numbers, and getting on the same page, the final step is to put a plan in place to ensure that you’re likely to keep the conversation going.
Many couples find that it helps to make having money talks part of their monthly routine. You may find it helpful to set guidelines around what needs to be discussed and schedule specific times to talk. Instead of wondering when or if you are going to talk about a pressing money issue, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
For example, you might agree that spending up to a certain threshold doesn’t warrant a discussion, but going over that set amount means you have to discuss it. It might mean that certain categories are flexible while others require rules; for example, you buy whatever the kids need for school, sports, and lessons, but you place limits on spending for your own hobbies.
Setting a time each month to do a quick review of your household budget, cash flow, and progress towards your goals means you will not lose sight of your plan. Once this becomes a regular part of your routine, you’ll no longer have to fret over getting caught off guard regarding money issues.
Money and Marriage: Get the Support You Need
No matter how positive your intentions are, having the money talk with your spouse can be challenging. If you find yourself avoiding money discussions or continuously arguing about money despite your best efforts, don’t hesitate to get the support you need. Consider joining a program offered through your place of worship, seeing a marriage counselor to work on deeper issues that could be affecting your finances, or hiring a financial advisor.