When we fall in love, it’s tempting to believe automatically in the cultural assumption that "love conquers all." If two people truly love each other, they can simply trust that their problems will be worked out, right?
Well, unfortunately, the reality is a little more sobering. Especially after the "honeymoon phase," logistics set in. Life happens. And it's not always easy, perhaps especially for married couples. Not only do 50% of marriages end in divorce, but money-related fights rank as the cause underlying 60% of divorce.
The irony is that most financial problems could probably be avoided if both partners in the couple took the time to consider their individual money patterns and values before co-mingling money. This often doesn’t happen because money tends to be a taboo topic to discuss, and there is something culturally unromantic about discussing money.
One of the greatest challenges I see between couples has to do with an imbalance in spending patterns. One partner is frugal and the other is a bit of a spendthrift. The reason is that we often unconsciously attract someone that reflects our disowned qualities. Initially, you may love that your partner spoils you with extravagant presents or spontaneous (and therefore costly) weekend getaways because you never would spend that kind of money.
But once the initial glow of romantic love starts to dim, these same aspects we find intoxicating initially can start to wreak havoc on our relationships. However, if you view relationship as a spiritual pathway to healing and wholeness, even the most difficult conflicts can be used to both grow individual and as a couple if they are handled properly.
Here are five tips about financial communication to embrace in order to have a healthy relationship with each other, and with money:
1. Don't procrastinate — start the conversation early!
Don’t wait until you’re married or engaged to address concerns about spending and saving. Some people are willing to shift their behaviors and change, and others aren’t. If you can’t navigate these difficult topics before your lives are co-mingled, odds are that it won’t get any easier later.
So state what you observe, how it makes you feel and what you need. For example: “I notice that each month you are running a balance on your credit card. This makes me feel anxious and scared because I don’t want money wasted on interest. My request is that we stop using credit cards and plan a budget for our spending.” If you can’t handle these conversations on your own, work with a money coach if you need to.
2. Sort out your spending, his/her spending, and "our" spending.
Everyone needs some financial freedom even in a relationship. So make an effort to label what's yours, what's your partners, and then what is your co-mingled money. Decide how to share joint expenses (housing, utilities, joint vacations) and then allow each person to spend the leftovers as they see fit.
Then, set a money limit over which you need to discuss a purchase and under which “no permission” is required. We all know that little purchases can add up to a lot of money but everyone deserves the respect and freedom to spend “their money” as they see fit even if you disagree.
3. Try to appreciate what the other person brings.
Fights happen when we frame our partner’s behavior in a negative light, and begin to perpetuate stories about them and create expectations that maybe we don't need to.
So consider alternatives and try to open your mind. Maybe without your partners willingness to spend a little more freely you would never enjoy some of the fun things money can buy. Likewise, without your conservative saving and frugal nature you might never own a house or be debt free. Focus on the balance and synergy you create as a whole.
4. Figure out your top three values.
More fights happen over “what we’re spending on” than “how much we’re spending”. If your values are out of sync finding a harmonious financial relationship is much more difficult. The reason is that values aren’t good or bad — they just are.
You also can’t debate or rationalize someone’s values. When you have values conflicts compromise can be really challenging. If you care about the same things even if your spending patterns differ it’s a lot easier to allocate your shared financial resources.
5. Ask yourself "the golden question."
Whenever I’m working with someone who is unhappy with something in their relationship, I always ask what I call "the golden question": “If the other person doesn’t change and this is as good as it gets can you be happy in this relationship?”
So much time and energy gets put into wanting, hoping and trying to change what we can’t control: other people. You may be able to influence someone else — but you may not. We can only truly control ourselves, never another person.
Money is one of the most important areas a couple needs to navigate. Don’t let romantic idealism over ride your person values in the area of personal finance, and recognize that communication is the starting place for working through these issues.
Want better understanding of how to apply these concepts in your life? Schedule a free 30 minute Clarity Session to explore working with me.