Navigating the Financial Side of a Relationship

Discussing Money With Your Partner For a Healthier Future: 101

Fights over money are fairly common, especially as two people share more and more financial responsibility.  However, fights over money, or simply not seeing eye-to-eye over finances remain one of the leading causes of divorce.  Fights over money tend to get toxic pretty quickly; they are filled with blame and bringing up random pieces of the other person’s past.  They also tend to be overall fairly ineffective as people walk away with more resentment over money, which can lead to even more reckless spending.   

A Financial Conversation

The best way to eliminate fights about money is to work towards having regularly scheduled talks, or at least a solid mutual understanding, around finances.  This is not going to look the same for every couple.  Some couples do really well with a spreadsheet and a budget.  Other couples may set aside a certain amount of money every month to meet some financial goal.  There is not a right and wrong way to manage finances with another person, the key is to find what works for you and your partner.

Your Financial History

One of the things that lead to people having very different opinions and approaches to money management is our own financial history.  We all had moments growing up where we “learned the value of a dollar” whether that was our first job, first big purchase, first time we saved X-amount of dollars, etc.  This financial history, largely shaped by our parents, will very likely contribute to our current approach to money.  Talking through these things can help bring clarity to issues where you and your partner see things very differently.  Our approach to money management is driven by the experiences we’ve had with money, so talking through our own history can help create more mutual understanding in the larger conversation.

The Carrot and The Stick

One of the best developments a couple can work towards is seeing the positive results from responsible financial habits instead of the negative feelings that come with irresponsible spending.  A budget does not have to be a document that tells you what you are not allowed to spend money on, rather it should do the opposite.  A successful budget should have at least some portion of your money being dedicated to the things you want, the things you have prioritized.  Now, impulse purchases that are outside of the budget are not mistakes that need to be punished, they are decisions that are keeping you from getting what you want, what you have prioritized in your budget.  If that causes a conflict, either internally or with your partner, you may want to re-think what your budget is working towards or find a way to control / make more room for impulse purchases.

Approach vs. Outcome

Hopefully, after a few open conversations you’ll work towards a few boundaries, rules or guidelines.  However, the best approach for how to achieve them may be different for you and your partner.  Some people love complex spreadsheets and spend-tracking apps, others find just carrying a fixed amount of cash is a better means to curb their spending.  They key is figuring out an approach that works for you as individuals that still meets your collective goals. 

How to Start – Agree on Something

Maybe it’s that one day you’d like to own a home, or a larger home, or go on a vacation, or go down to one job.  Whatever your financial end-game is, that’s where the conversation starts.  “You need to stop going to Starbucks” is a fight-starter; “We both want ____, now let’s talk about how we can get it” is a conversation-starter.  By starting with a common goal, and not an individual being blamed, the entire topic can become easier to approach and more likely to be resolved without the stress of another argument over money.