Published in: Banks | May 8, 2019

How to Have an Honest Talk About Money With Your Significant Other

Talking about money is tough, but it doesn’t have to be a relationship killer. Follow this advice to have an honest -- and productive -- talk about your finances.
Couple looking at financial paperwork in dismay. Image source: Getty Images.

Money is a leading source of stress in relationships, and it’s no surprise as to why. Many people have very definitive ideas about what they want to do with their cash, and decisions about money can be very personal.

Unfortunately, even as many couples struggle to deal with money issues as a team, there’s no way of getting around the fact that your financial decisions affect your partner when you’re in a relationship. This is true even if you keep separate accounts, as one partner’s debt, bad credit, or lack of retirement savings can affect joint goals.

Since your financial life is inevitably merged with your romantic life when you have a significant other, you need to be able to talk about money together in an honest, positive, and constructive way. To help you do that, follow these basic tips.

Schedule time for regular money meetings

You aren’t going to resolve all of your money issues at one time -- and you aren’t going to resolve them at all if you spring a conversation on your spouse before dinner or while they’re trying to watch the game.

If you want to have an open and honest talk, you need to have the conversation when you have the time to pay attention to each other and when you’re in the right frame of mind. Schedule a date for money conversations. Ask your partner when it would be a good time to talk, and sit down together when you can speak without distraction or interruptions.

Avoid being judgmental or critical

Your partner is never going to be honest with you about money if they know you’re going to yell at them for being irresponsible or scoff at their spending habits. You need to make sure your partner feels supported in efforts to fulfill financial goals and make positive changes in how money is handled.

This doesn’t mean you can or should overlook serious problems. If your spouse is spending frivolously, spending too much, or making bad choices, you need to address these issues -- but, you should try to come at the subject in a helpful, rather than a hurtful way. “I’ve noticed the credit card bills have been a little high lately -- are you having trouble affording everything you need and do we need to work on adjusting the budget?” is going to go over a lot better than “I can’t believe you maxed out the credit card this month, what’s wrong with you?”

If your partner repeatedly makes bad financial decisions and won’t talk with you about trying to make changes, even when you’re approaching the conversation in a supportive way, it may be time to get help from a professional marriage or financial counselor to tackle the problem.

Focus on your feelings

Financial issues have an emotional impact for many people. If you’re worried or stressed about money, this can manifest in fights with your partner. You don’t want this to happen, so you need to take the time to understand how your money situation is affecting your feelings -- and share this with your partner.

If you’re frustrated you aren’t saving up an emergency fund or paying down debt quickly enough, one of the best ways to get your partner on board with the goal is to talk about how this financial issue is making you feel. Explaining that you’re staying up nights stressing about how you’d afford a car repair or a doctor’s visit should be more effective than yelling at your spouse about going out to eat instead of depositing that extra cash into the emergency fund.

Frame the conversation in a positive light with a focus on team goals

Too often when couples talk about money they focus on everything that’s wrong or how the lack of money is hindering their lives.

Instead of focusing on the negative all the time, talk with your partner about what you want your joint financial goals to be. If you can both come together and agree you want to accomplish certain things with your money, such as paying off personal loans or buying a home, this joint goal can be the start of a broader money conversation centered around what you need to do to achieve that objective.

Money conversations are worth having

While it’s tempting to avoid financial subjects if they lead to tension, not addressing your money concerns with your partner is a recipe for disaster. You should start having talks about money and finances as soon as you get serious and should continue to have these conversations throughout your relationship to make sure you’re both on the same page and working towards financial success together.

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