Even the best relationships, conflict is inevitable, and it’s no surprise that money ranks as one of the top issues causing stress and division between partners. How to earn money, how to spend it, how to save it, where to keep it, who gets it, and what it means day-to-day are all aspects that couples must address and re-address over time.
It’s not an easy conversation to have. We all bring different habits — often influenced by how we grew up and our family — into romantic relationships and that can quickly create friction. It’s important that couples commit to addressing any conflicts about money in the right way. So how do you start the conversation? Get going on some self-examination and then make sure you’re rested, have a full stomach, a quiet place, and that you’re both really ready to dive in.
Are You a Spender or Saver?
Even before you kick off this money-focused heart-to-heart, it’s crucial that you take a moment to reflect on your own habits, thoughts, and goals when it comes to money. Most likely, you fall into one of two camps: spenders or savers. Not sure where you land most of the time? Picture this scenario: your company decides to kick in an extra $100 bonus as a thank you for last quarter’s performance. Do you automatically hit “place order” on your Amazon account or do you stash away the majority in the ol’ piggy bank?
Now consider how you’ve reacted to individual financial scenarios over the course of the last year. Watch for trends to determine if you’re more likely to save or spend and enter your money conversation with that understanding. You could also try this quick quiz.
Stick to the Financial Facts
It’s easy to get worked up during difficult conversations — especially about money. Resist the urge to make sweeping assessments about you or your partner’s financial choices by coming prepared with copies of your latest bank and credit card statements. With your actual purchases noted, you (and your partner) will have less fuel to make broad statements like: You always stop for coffee in the morning or you never transfer money into our savings account.
Hint: When approaching any discussion, it’s best to avoid fighting words like: “whatever,” “always/never” “you’re just like…” “you’re too sensitive…” Most of the time, they’re emotion-driven generalizations and not accurate.
Be sure to also lean on free tools that credit cards offer on their websites. Many will analyze your statement to help you understand your spending habits across key areas like housing, food and entertainment. Other sites like Mint.com will help you set budgets and track your spending to help ward off future difficult conversations.
Set Mutual Financial Goals
Money is a very divisive topic (put that in the same category as religion and politics), so it’s important to identify shared goals that can ground your conversation. We all have different wants and needs, but as a couple, you likely have some sort of shared vision: a new home, expanding your family, or minimizing debt.
Discuss your concerns about your financial situation through the lens of your top two or three financial goals to put things in perspective. Once you agree to make different your choices, dive into the nitty gritty about how to get there. Always shoot for setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) to guide your future decisions and to best track your progress. By aligning your shared visions, you’ll be more apt to come up with steps that both of you can agree on and follow in the long run.
Difficult conversations can be daunting — especially if you don’t like conflict — but addressing concerns with your partner about money and your shared financial future will pave the way to a stronger, more resilient relationship.