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How to Inspire Honest & Authentic Money Conversations in Your Relationship

As I concluded a program recently with an amazing couple, it reminded me just how much can be at stake when you’ve got 2 people (and sometimes more if children are involved) in a money conversation.

Most people aren’t necessarily familiar with what it is that gets in the way of having effective money conversations in a relationship (click here for prior post on this topic), let alone how to proactively build a mutual foundation for authenticity, honesty, and trust.

In working with couples, there is always the initial space that we create where they get to hear each other out. We get to understand how each partner grew up around money and how that impacts them, and the “baggage” that they bring into the relationship without even realizing it. There’s also an appreciation gained of each other’s “money type” and how that plays out in their lives (both individually and together as a couple).

And once we clear through the past, we’re ready to get started on building an amazing financial future – as a couple! In order to do that, I recommend 3 key steps to get started on building a strong, joint financial foundation:

  1. Approach money with a spirit of partnership – One of the biggest mistakes I see couples making is that one or the other of them is right about how to handle money. For the couples I work with who thrive, they make a concerted effort to explore what each of them has to offer regarding managing money, and each of them gets to be heard and contribute. As a couple, it’s a team game – and while not all team players are created with equal strengths and abilities, each player deserves to be part of the team and contribute to the financial partnership. So allow yourself to be friendly, fun, curious and inquisitive when it comes to how your partner interacts with money…not only is money a divine tool to support you in your life, it’s also an excellent teaching tool for you to learn about your loved ones and why they say and do what they do!
  2. Appreciate other dynamics at play in your relationship – While money is indeed its own unique entity, there are very often other social dynamics at play when it comes to building an authentic and honest financial partnership. While this may not apply to all couples (and in some couples it can be reversed, which is ok too), very often men are wired as “providers” and women are wired as “hunters/gatherers.” What does this mean exactly? In a nutshell and as it relates to money, men are generally wired to “bring home the bacon” and provide for their families. In today’s day and age, many women are often wired this way as they are committed to their careers and professional excellence. Unfortunately, while women’s liberation has been an incredibly important shift, sometimes it can lead to confusion as to who the provider is in a relationship (the man or the woman?). This confusion can then seep into who is accountable for the different aspects of managing the finances – who is the primary earner (or are both key earners for the household)? Who gets to manage the day-to-day finances – the primary earner or the one who works less hours or stays at home? Is one partner responsible for planning for the longer-term future (i.e. retirement)? Understanding up front the financial roles that each partner will accept responsibility for in the relationship is a key component to building a financially peaceful life as a couple.
  3. Align and plan how you will use your money with what matters to you both – Now that you’ve created a space of partnership and taken some time to determine the roles each of you will play in your financial lives, it’s time to put “pen to paper” as they say and develop a financial plan. Your mutual situation may require a plan that involves handling the day-to-day expenditures while getting out of debt and saving money. The key to any financial plan that supports a couple is that there is room in the plan for the unique needs and wants of both parties. And yes, this means that if your significant other spends money on something you just cannot understand, you may get to be quiet about it (provided that it’s not putting you in a place of financial hardship)! An effective financial plan will use money in a way that’s first and foremost aligned with the mutual goals of the couple (i.e. saving for a house, a new baby, college funds for children) while also incorporating a solid balance of fun and self-care for each partner.

With a spirit of partnership and mutual respect, designing a mutually beneficial financial future is an amazingly creative and loving process that can set a couple up for incredible success. Simply remember to be curious and inquisitive whenever your partner does something with money that you don’t understand – you’ll often be surprised what you can learn about your partner and they may have important input to contribute to an even more solid financial foundation for the both of you!

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The Top 3 Reasons Why Couples Fight About Money

It is a well-known and often-cited fact that money and arguments about money are the #1 reason for divorce.  And while it saddens me to know this fact in and of itself, it saddens me even more to know that there are things that can be done to prevent these arguments from happening.  And without arguments, there’s a lower risk of divorce (or if you’re not married, a lower risk of breaking up).

From what I see with my conversations with couples, there are many different reasons why couples tend to fight about money.  However, there are 3 relatively consistent reasons why couples find themselves miscommunicating about money (or perhaps not even communicating at all after a while):

1)      The partners don’t fully appreciate each other’s “money perspective” or “money story” – Like it or not, we are all an accumulation of the various money experiences that we have had over our lifetime, both positive and challenging experiences.  Some experiences weigh more heavily on us and we’re aware of them (they are conscious experiences) while yet some other experiences we are less aware of their impact (they are unconscious and insidiously run our lives without us even realizing it).  So imagine the potential impact when an individual isn’t aware of all of their “money stuff” and then two individuals enter a relationship and multiply the amount of unknown “money stuff” – it becomes a heightened issue and this one particular reason causes the majority of the money fights I see and hear about.  While it may seem like an odd conversation to have, I always advise couples to take the time to sit down and curiously explore how their partner grew up around money and what they believe.  When you understand where they are coming from and what they learned (their personal “money filter” if you will), often times it is helpful information to refer to later on when a money discussion begins – you’ll have a better appreciation of their side!

2)      Insufficient knowledge of numbers (a.k.a. “financial reality”) by either the couple together or one partner in the relationship – Understanding your numbers is a critical cornerstone of any proactive money management approach and any well-designed financial plan.  However, when the numbers aren’t understood by one individual or both parties in a relationship it is a common point of confusion and overwhelm.  Sometimes people are burying their heads in the sand on purpose, sometimes there is financial disorganization and clutter so understanding the totality of your finances is a challenge, and sometimes it’s a matter that the couple hasn’t taken the time to align their goals together and as a result they are using money in different ways that don’t support what they really want the relationship to be about.  Any of these reasons can cause confusion and challenging energy in any financial conversation.

3)      Financial infidelity – While I’ve spoken out in detail about this particular issue before (see here for article on this topic), it’s worth revisiting.  In a nutshell, when you’re hiding (consciously or unconsciously) financial transactions and behavior from your significant other, it can slowly and quietly tear at the fabric of trust in a relationship.  The first step in assessing whether financial infidelity has crept into your relationship is to ask yourself what you might be doing to impact the level of financial authenticity in your relationship.  Second, listen and get feedback from your partner about what they believe could be working better in your financial relationship (you don’t always have to agree, just start with listening!).  And third, now that you’ve self-assessed and asked your partner for feedback, it’s time to get on the same page with purposely-designed mutual goals that become the underlying backbone of any proactive money management approach and well-designed financial plan.

Each of these 3 issues has potential on their own to confuse and alter a couple’s ability to have honest and authentic money conversations, and sometimes all 3 of these issues surface at the same time causing a tsunami of emotions and miscommunications.  It can lead to one partner or both partners feeling shut down and scared to communicate how they really feel because they either believe that their partner won’t hear them (i.e. the partner has one way of looking at things and doesn’t understand where they are coming from) or that they are going to just step into the same fight all over again.

If you’re in a situation now with a partner where you’re arguing about money, here’s my best piece of advice that I can give you to get started unlocking the mystery of a strong money partnership for you and your significant other – find your vulnerability, take some time to think about how you would like to kindly approach the topic of money, and start simply.  Don’t make it about the large sack of financial baggage that is weighing you both down, start with some honesty about simply wanting to make things better, and invite your partner to a conversation so that you can better understand where they are coming from when it comes to money.

And while all of the above steps do indeed take time and effort, if you invest the time to better understand your partner and their money perspective I promise that over time it will pay off in a more cohesive and purposeful financial plan that will lead you more quickly to a life of financial independence!

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