Guest post by Lindsay Bryan-Podvin
Getting on the same page as your partner is important in a relationship. Research shows that couples who talk about money are happier than those that don’t. There are numerous reasons for this. Some researchers say that talking about money as a couple helps couples to deepen their emotional intimacy. Others say that talking about money and setting goals together is a way that the couple can demonstrate they are invested in one another for the long haul. Yet another theory is that couples who talk about money likely have good conversation skills in other parts of their relationship. Regardless of your motivation to talk about money, learning how to get on the same financial page is valuable in a relationship.
Money affects romantic relationships even if we avoid talking about money. The consequences of not talking about money in relationships can be detrimental. Year after year, the two leading causes of divorce and separation in the United States continue to be infidelity and disagreements over money.
What I routinely hear as a financial therapist is something that sounds like, “we just can’t talk about money! Every time we do, we fight!” And in many ways, these couples are right. Why? They avoid talking about money because it’s a little awkward and only talk about money when they are forced to, like when one of them overspends on a credit card or is awarded a promotion that requires a move. Then, emotions are high when the couple tries to talk about money, creating a feedback loop that affirms that they can’t talk about money.
As discussed above, talking about money (not fighting about it) can strengthen relationships. When a couple agrees on money goals, including what to save, spend, and invest in, it can positively impact their relationship. It’s also fun to plan a life together and work towards shared goals!
When you start talking about money in a relationship, it’s important to first set the stage for collaboration and compromise. Where many couples get stuck is trying to “win” their side of an argument instead of finding ways to compromise and collaborate with their partner. This usually looks like trying to “prove” that their side is “right” by showing spreadsheets, facts, and data. In doing this, it bulldozes the other person’s ability to contribute to the money conversation.
I recommend that couples set aside time to talk about money and that they focus on the “we” instead of “me” or “you.” In other words, instead of pointing the finger at your partner for not saving enough money for bills, reframe it to, “we’ve been neglecting paying our bills and keep getting hit with late fees. Let’s set aside some time to talk about our spending plan together.”
It can also be helpful to frame new budgeting or savings tactics as “experiments.” As in, “let’s experiment with auto-save for two months and check in and see if it feels like it’s working.” This can give both people in the relationship an opportunity to try out something new without feeling stuck if it doesn’t feel like a fit.
When you are in a romantic relationship, you have to decide how you want to set up your finances. For some couples, they like to have everything separate. Other couples like a blended approach, with a shared account for shared expenses, and separate accounts for other funds. Whichever umbrella you fall under, using an app like Tandem can be great. With Tandem, you can set up repeating split expenses and bills, so you don’t have to constantly Venmo or Zelle your partner all the time. Plus, the app integrates with all of your current cards and accounts, so no need to sign up for anything new.
Financial compassion is understanding why a person might think, feel, or behave with their money the way they do, even if their actions might seem somewhat unconventional. Couples who aren't practicing financial compassion speak to their partner in a blameful or shameful way when it comes to their money. When couples are practicing financial compassion, they say things like, "I can imagine how that must have felt growing up and hearing that message about money," or "I can see why you would be doing X financial behavior based upon your beliefs about money."
Compassion is not about offering excuses or a free pass--it’s about understanding someone else’s behavior without passing judgment. When you practice financial compassion in a relationship, you collaborate with your partner as needed to find a better financial solution.
When talking about money, implementing apps, and reading books or listening to money-related podcasts just doesn't seem to be working, financial therapy can be a viable option for couples. In couples’ financial therapy, a therapist works with the couple to gain a deeper understanding of how each person thinks, feels, and behaves with their money. As a partnership, the couple works together toward aligned financial goals, while learning more about their partner’s money story and cultivating compassion along the way. A financial therapist will also help you develop communication skills and work with you on the basics of creating a financial plan in alignment with the couple’s needs and values. If you are looking for a financial therapist, you can check the Financial Therapy Association’s directory to get some ideas. Note: a clinician can add themself to this directory--do your due diligence to make sure they have a background in financial therapy, too.
Now you know the benefits of talking about money, tips on how to start the money conversation, and how to begin practicing financial compassion. Taking this next step as a couple--talking about money--is huge! Pat yourselves on the back and enjoy this new milestone together.
Lindsay Bryan-Podvin is a financial therapist and owner of Mind Money Balance practicing in Michigan. In her financial therapy practice, she helps couples and individuals create a shame-free relationship with money using financial psychology. When she’s not working, she can be found binge-watching Bravo TV, taking her pup on walks through wooded areas of Michigan, or going out to dinner in Ann Arbor with her partner.