Think back to the last time you and your partner talked about money. I’m going to guess that it wasn’t a positive experience. That’s because most of our money conversations are reactive; they’re based around bills, budgets, overspending or other issues that pop up. Rarely do couples have positive discussions about their dreams, values and feelings around money. Talking about money with your spouse is critical not only to your future planning but also to the strength of your marriage. Marriage.com lists money as the No. 2 reason for divorce among couples (only behind infidelity). And it’s easy to see why. Money touches everything. If you and your spouse don’t have positive communication around money and support each other’s values, it can lead to constant bickering, fighting and worse.
The good news is if you’re reading this article, you want to improve your communication with your partner. Congrats. Below are four tips to having positive and open money discussions as a couple.
Set a “money date”: As the very first step, Megan Lathrop, co-creator of Capital One’s Money Coaching Program, recommends setting a money date with your partner. Don’t worry, this isn’t what you’re thinking; we’re not asking you to bring your budget spreadsheet to review over a romantic dinner. The focus of this date is to have an open conversation about your relationships around money. Don’t even set an outcome or goal, just talk. Make sure you’re in a supportive and connecting environment, such as a hike or over wine (wine always helps). This begins to build a foundation of trust and understanding as you embark on future conversations.
Discuss your values around money: In Lathrop’s workshops, she encourages couples to list their top five values. It doesn’t need to be about money, just whatever’s important to them. From there, compare your lists and identify your similarities and differences. This can be eye-opening to why you may have issues with your spouse around money. Lathrop states that typically what comes out of her workshops is the realization that the couple is not arguing about money, but about values. For example, your spouse may list adventure as a value, while you may list stability. After digging deeper you may realize that this is why he spends so much money on travel, and why you are always buying pieces for the home. The beauty of this conversation is if you make the discussion around values, both partners typically step in and want to support each other. This type of larger structured conversation is non threatening and positive.
Plan for your future: This seems obvious enough, but according to Capital One’s Financial Freedom survey, one-third of couples never talk about their retirement plans with each other. If you don’t discuss your hopes for retirement then you end up making assumptions about what the other wants. Maybe your husband wants to garden with you ten hours a day like you planned. Maybe he doesn’t. The only way you’ll know is by asking him. Most importantly, having open conversations about your future allows you to plan for it, rather than just letting your future happen by default.
Turning triggers around: We are all human and we all have our triggers. You know how it goes. You intend on just having a quick talk about the budget, and within five minutes both of you have your arms crossed and are glaring a hole through the other. What’s the best way to avoid these trigger flare ups, according to Lathrop? Slow down. “If one person is triggered, how they respond naturally can trigger the other person. Then we have two triggered people.” Think of it as the stop, drop and roll fire safety method. When you feel your blood heating, take a pause. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and take a break from each other to reflect. Then come back together to discuss when you’ve settled down.