Money Talks for Couples by Sara Schwarzbaum

June 12, 2018

By Sara Schwarzbaum

couple arguing over money

Many couples struggle, fight, and even divorce over money issues.

After the honeymoon period, some couples begin to have escalating conflicts regarding finances, debt, investment, or spending or they stop talking to each other altogether about money to avoid the conflicts.

If things don’t get better, some people feel like they made the wrong choice of mate, blame each other for their problems, and even think about breaking up.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Disagreements about money are not just about numbers. Money has emotional meanings for you and your partner because they originate in your financial ancestry. This affects how you feel about financial chores and determines your financial goals.

Below are general guidelines and questions for dealing with differences and conflicts around money. You can examine your own, and your partner’s, financial ancestry, attitudes toward financial chores, and financial goals. After that, you can learn to adapt and compromise.

These conversations don’t happen naturally. They require scheduling to discuss, ask questions and make decisions.  As is true of any well functioning organization, it’s leaders schedule regular meetings to discuss short term and long term goals, plans and strategies. A well functioning relationship operates in the same way. 

  1. Set up limits of spending without having to consult a partner.
This will vary according to each couple. Define how much each partner can spend on anything without having to consult the other and stick to it.
  1. Discuss how disagreements will be handled.
There are consensus, turf, and veto techniques available to handle disagreements. Each has its advantages depending on the circumstance. Consensus takes more time; turf is faster but requires skills in giving up control; veto power is very helpful in some contentious situations such as big purchases, home remodeling and where to move.
  1. Discuss your financial ancestry. Ask each other the following questions.
    • What are your earliest memories about money?
    • What is your most painful money memory?
    • What is your most joyful money memory?
    • How did your parents handle conflict over money?
    • Were there secrets about money?
    • What three things did you learn from your parents about money?
    • What did you learn about money given your gender?
    • Were the career expectations for you any different from your siblings given your gender?
    • What are you willing to do differently about money now that you are partnered with someone who has a different financial ancestry background?
  2. Discuss current financial chores. Here are some questions to guide this conversation:
    • Who pays the bills and how was this decided?
    • How does each partner feel about their financial contributions to the budget? (This is particularly important if there are large discrepancies)
    • Are the accounts separate or joint? How was this decided?
    • Are there disagreements about financial chores? How are these disagreements handled?
    • For whom does the current financial chore arrangement work best? Who struggles with the current financial chore arrangement and how are those struggles handled?
    • Are there any gender-related expectations regarding the financial chores?
  3. Lastly, and not necessarily in this order, talk about financial goals. Some questions:
    • What are your financial goals for the next five years?
    • What is your greatest financial fear?
    • What are your beliefs about current or future affluence and how do they impact your daily life?
    • If you are planning on having children, who will be the primary caretaker and how will this impact income?
Here is what some of my clients have said as a result of these guided “money talks” that I encouraged them to have.
  •  “I never knew this about her, now I understand!”.
  •  “Our money talks were really helpful to start acting like a team”.
  • “I didn’t even know how much he makes”. 
  • “I realized I was unknowingly following my mothers’ scripts”.
  • “I didn’t realize I had those beliefs and where they came from”.

I hope you can implement some of these ideas in your relationship.


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