Talking about money with your significant other involves emotional vulnerability. This makes it a topic that’s ripe for tension, but also one with the potential for developing closeness and healing past wounds.
In long-term relationships, partners’ financial lives and outcomes are closely tied together. Here, we’ll unpack some practical tips for how to talk about money productively and create shared financial goals.
Identify each others’ money-related strengths. Conversations go a lot more smoothly if people’s strengths are part of the discussion, rather than just their weaknesses. Often, weaknesses and strengths are flip sides of each other. So if you’re struggling to identify your partner’s financial strong points, look at what annoys you and find the hidden upsides. For example, my spouse isn’t very good at buying items when they’re on sale. She just buys what she needs when she needs it. However, the flip side of this is that because she’s not paying attention to discounts, she’s not getting sucked into buying things we don’t need just because they’re on sale.
Non-defensively catch each others’ thinking errors.
A huge benefit of having someone in your life who knows you very well and who you trust is that you can allow them to point out your self-sabotaging habits, and vice versa. Money-related patterns to catch might include: being too risk-averse, spending too much time worrying about small amounts of money, paying for subscriptions you rarely use, or getting over-excited and upsold on features you don’t need when you’re making a large purchase. When you know each others’ patterns, you can point these out in a constructive and good-natured way and avoid falling into these traps.
Ask about your partner’s perspective rather than guessing.
New research highlights the importance of romantic partners asking what the other thinks. Don’t assume you know what your partner’s money priorities and goals are. Ask them! If you’ve been together for a long time, you’re possibly overconfident about the extent to which you know what your partner thinks.
When your partner tells you about their perspective and values, take their word for it. People have different values when it comes to money. For example, for one person gift-giving might be important, whereas for someone else it might be the first place they want to cut spending. When your values differ from your partner’s, acknowledge that what they say they value is true for them. You don’t have to agree with their values, but it helps to understand that your partner’s money-related actions and motivation will largely be based on whatever their authentic values are.
Talk about your money-related emotional baggage. We all have emotional baggage when it comes to money that can get in the way of achieving and sustaining financial security. Common types include fear about investing or shame over mistakes you’ve made. When you talk about these topics, you open yourself up to becoming closer with your partner and overcoming past issues. Discuss how your upbringing (and prior relationships) has influenced your money habits and your thoughts about money. What money messages from your childhood might you be rebelling against now? Conversely, what values have you internalised from your parents? It’s easier to be understanding of other people’s thinking and behavioural patterns if you know their origins, and from there you can identify shared goals.
Dr Alice Boyes is author of the books The Healthy Mind Toolkit (2018) and The Anxiety Toolkit (2015).