When it comes to the most complex and avoided conversations you can have, money is often top of the list. Many couples find themselves dancing around the topic for years, sometimes even decades. But we do know that the less money is discussed, the more likely couples are to keep financial secrets, harbour resentments and spiral into disagreements.
Arguments about money have the potential to be especially toxic, because the topic is often rooted in emotional history. Researchers have shown there’s a direct link between divorce rates and the number of times a couple has argued about their budget. In a report commissioned by Canstar this year, 31 per cent of singles interviewed said money was part or all of the cause of their recent breakup.
It is likely your aversion to money talk stems from childhood. There are not many families that consciously celebrate and welcome conversations about money, who share how money makes them feel and openly talk about the financial decisions they’re working through. A 2015 survey by super fund-owned bank ME found that more than a quarter of Aussies don’t like talking about finances with others and 16 per cent won’t talk to anyone about them, even their partner. You may also have witnessed money being the cause of fights and frustrations, rather than how it can be discussed productively and used to enhance the connection between partners.
There is an abundance of advice about enriching your relationship through planned “date nights”, but very little about scheduling in creating fiscal harmony. So, if you are ready to enhance your co-financial life here are some suggestions about where to start.
Share your money history
Money can seem like a complicated topic, but it doesn’t need to be. Start by sharing your own unique story with money; talk about how finances were handled in your childhood home, what money means to you and how you feel your financial worth relates to your self-worth. Honest assessment and communication will allow your partner to understand you more completely and the way you interact with money.
It can be helpful to start by acknowledging a lot of couples find it difficult to talk about money, so it is expected that you might both feel uncomfortable, but agree to support each other. Approach each money conversation with a view to deepening your understanding of each other while aiming for constructive outcomes. Compassionate communication, honesty, trust and openness are undoubtedly important ingredients for a healthy relationship — with yourself, your partner and your money.
Get specific about your values
Often we absorb our parents’ attitudes towards money or we rebel against them. Either way, we all have different values and beliefs about money, which can either create potential conflict or contribute towards harmony in our co-financial lives. Bringing awareness to our values and beliefs towards money is a great opportunity to get self-curious and to expand our understanding of ourselves and our partners.
Here are some helpful questions to explore together:
- What was your experience of money growing up? Was money spoken about in your family? How did your parents manage their money? What were their spending habits? What is your favourite money memory? What have you learnt about money from your parents? How is your family’s money culture different to those around you?
- How are you currently approaching your financial life? What do you currently do that is similar or different to the way your parents managed their money? What does money represent to you? What is your attitude towards gambling? What gender roles do you conform to even if you are in a same-sex relationship? Do you believe one person should be financially responsible for the family? Who should earn a larger salary? What does financial success mean to you?
Understand each other’s whole financial picture
Understanding your partner’s financial position allows you to best support each other fiscally and create a system that works towards the achievement of any money goals. If you have just moved from single life to couple life, your freedom and private spending habits might feel exposed. It is important to not compare or judge each other’s money situation or spending habits — this will only create barriers and disconnection. These prompts will help you to better understand where you both are financially (not what you are):
- Know how much you each earn
- Know what you own (eg savings balances, shares, property, vehicles)
- Know what you owe (eg HECs debt, credit card balances, personal or car loan balances, mortgages)
Create a shared vision
Invest in your financial future as a couple by identifying what you both value and create shared goals. If you have already ticked off big financial milestones, such as buying an engagement ring or putting down a deposit on a home, you might be aware of the impact that other people’s opinions can have on your financial choices. The “three-month rule”, for example, encourages couples to buy an engagement ring that costs three months’ salary. This might not work for you and your partner. Indeed, you might not want to buy a ring at all. Equally, you and your partner might value the flexibility of renting over saving for a deposit, or you might prefer to splash out on a holiday rather than a car.
The point is, get on the same page with your partner and support each other to stay focused on what you want as a couple, not what other people expect of you. It takes courage and discipline to stick to your unique set of values and to spend money on the things that bring you joy. This is where your partnership can offer some of its greatest strengths.
Set some guidelines
It is important for every couple to decide how they are going to manage their money. Find a time when you will both be relaxed and schedule your first money date. Take the time to acknowledge that you are committed to your relationship and to protecting it, which means talking through financial challenges and goals. Some topics to explore:
- How could managing our finances help to strengthen our relationship?
- What does financial wellbeing mean to us as a couple?
- What are your helpful co-money management techniques (for example joint bank accounts, cash budgeting to stick to spending limits and choosing debit cards instead of credit cards)?
- How are we going to decide how much to spend on rent, groceries, holidays etc?
- How are we going to set spending boundaries and “free-use money” limits?
- How will we tackle challenges with a just-in-case fund and commit to long-term savings?
- How will we balance saving/spending tendencies?
Money cannot buy a happy relationship, but as a resource it can enable you to focus on the things you and your partner really care about. Together you can choose to engage with money in a more healthy and meaningful way. You can embrace your differences and allow your vulnerabilities and plans for the future to deepen your connection.