We all hate the money talk. Whether you are working out the details of your financial lives before you commit, or whether you have been in a committed relationship for years, talking about money always seems to be fraught with the makings of relationship peril. Even if you don’t plan to marry, if you are sharing some expenses and moving in together, it is a good idea to regularly touch base on the financial situation. Even couples who decide to split finances should regularly confer about money.
How you approach the money talk can make a big difference, in the feelings of harmony in your partnership. Here are some tips on how you can increase the chances of a more amicable talk about money with your partner:
- Schedule a time to talk about your finances: Instead of bringing the subject up unexpectedly with your partner, schedule a time to talk about it. You don’t like to be surprised into having a conversation that might get ugly, especially if you don’t have time to prepare. The money talk is something you prepare for. Schedule at least two hours for your first money conference, and then schedule at least half an hour to an hour for regular, subsequent talks about money, depending on how often you feel you need to touch base. (My husband and I go over our finances every two months.)
- Prepare your financial picture: Both partners should come to the money talk appointment prepared with credit scores, latest budget information, an estimate of net worth, and a list of financial assets and liabilities. It can also help to have each of you think of your financial goals ahead of time and write them down. It is vital that you are completely honest with your partner about your assets and liabilities. Obviously, money talks as your relationship progresses won’t need to be as detailed each time. But you will want to talk about your financial goals, and review some of your spending.
- Try to keep emotion off the table: This is a little more difficult. Preparing ahead of time, and scheduling a time to talk, can make this a little easier. The important thing to remember is that you should not attack each other over mistakes that are, hopefully, in the past. Do your best to be understanding of each other, listening to your partner’s views on money. You need to understand why your partner spends or saves the way he or she does. And you need to be prepared to explain why you do what you do with money. Both of you should agree to use “I” language, rather than pointing fingers. Sometimes, it can help to have a third party present to help smooth things and keep them civil. A financial adviser or planner, a trusted leader in your religious congregation or an authority figure you both agree can provide mediation. It’s best to avoid using friends and family for these types of mediation.
- Keep notes: Both of you should keep track of shared goals that you develop, as well as the bulk of the conversation. This way, you can refer to your notes down the road, and compare your recent performance to your financial goals.
- Understand that money isn’t always the issue: Look at yourself and your partner, and try to understand that money isn’t always the main issue. Sometimes security and control are issues. Fear and other impulses can also affect how we think about money — and lead to anger in other cases. Sometimes, in order to avoid fights about money, it is important to recognize and address underlying issues.
In the end, your best bet is to be honest, open and understanding. It can be hard to be understanding when your partner’s mistakes have led to debt. But you need to try to avoid judgment and work together moving forward, even if you do decide to keep your finances separate for now.