A 3-step plan to help you communicate effectively about your finances
Money issues can cause no end of arguments in a relationship.
Through my experience as a professional couple counsellor, I've found that even the most seemingly together couples can still find it difficult to communicate about money. They may have no trouble talking about any other subject, but either argue about their finances or avoid talking about them until there's a crisis.
Since you've landed on this page, I suspect something's going awry for you too.
Is one of you perhaps...
- spending too much on a hobby or interest
- a shopaholic
- an impulsive buyer
- feeling that your other needs aren’t being met
- not contributing fairly to the household bills
- too controlling
- putting pressure on the other to change jobs because of poor pay
- simply selfish
- or any other distressing scenario?
In this article, I’ll first help you to look at the problem from a different point of view. Then, I'll provide you with the essential steps necessary for the two of you to have a more fruitful conversation about your finances, when you're having money issues in your relationship.
Let’s start by looking at things from a different angle, which you might not have considered before. So, stick with me and take a little time to let this all sink in...
Is it really just a money problem?
Arguments about money can be particularly destructive.
Because they almost always involve at least one person feeling insecure about the financial stability of the household.
In addition, we all have an essential emotional need for security. For many, stable finances play a key role in meeting that need.
What’s the situation like for you?
Could there be another reason for your distress?
Often, what lies beneath arguments about money is one of the following issues:
- One partner feels the other isn't really committed
- One partner feels out of control (either because of the other’s behaviour, or because of their own behaviour)
- One partner hates being treated unfairly - it's the principle that matters
These three issues can often be traced back to childhood experiences of not being treated fairly, of family chaos and/or of abandonment.
Maybe your parents were dreadful with money. Or perhaps you were aware of how poor (or rich) the family was. Maybe you felt that your siblings were getting more than you. Or perhaps, if you're really honest, you know you were spoilt as a child, and now you can't bear not getting what you want.
There's no doubt that the patterns set in childhood form the foundations of how we deal with life as an adult. That is, until we figure out how these patterns are affecting us and take conscious control.
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Step 1: How to stop your past dictating your future
It's time to face up to what's happened.
I know that can be really scary. But if you don't, the patterns of the past will continue to repeat throughout the future. And you're likely to fall into the same traps over and over again. You may even continue to often feel out of control, with little awareness of how you got into that situation/relationship again.
So, let's begin to deal with it all.
Ask yourself the following three questions:
- Did I feel secure as a child?
If not, what was happening to make me feel insecure?
- Did I feel my concerns were listened to?
If not, why not?
- Did I feel that I was treated fairly?
If not, what was happening? Who got more than I did and why? Did I often feel jealous?
These are tough questions to ask and think about, I know. But they’re really important.
Because these issues are very likely to contribute to how you feel about your and your partner's attitudes to money.
Now imagine the impact of the above on any the following scenarios:
- You're feeling insecure because you're not (or are no longer) financially independent
- You're feeling insecure because of a major crisis in your relationship, e.g. your partner having an affair
- Your job is no longer secure
- You suspect or know that you're contributing more to the household bills than your partner
- Your collective debts are getting out of control
- You're no longer able to service your personal debts
When you can verbalise exactly what your concerns are about your finances, you can start to think about possible solutions. So, with the answers to the above questions and an increase in your awareness, you're ready for the next step.
Step 2: Set the scene for a fruitful conversation
Have you already tried to talk to your partner about your money problems? And if so, have the conversations turned into arguments, leaving you feeling angry and frustrated?
Or, have you avoided bringing up the subject altogether? Do you change the topic if your partner mentions it? Or are you simply burying your head in the sand, hoping that somehow your finances will magically fix themselves?
As with all problems, communication is key! You do need to be able to communicate openly and honestly about your joint and individual financial wants and needs.
Communication is a fine art, though, and there’s a lot that can go wrong, even when you set out with the best of intentions. The good news? You can learn and become better at it over time. You don't need to resolve all of your problems in one conversation alone.
Before you continue here, I recommend reading my article on how to argue (link), to give yourself the best chance of having a more constructive conversation.
How to approach your partner
- Write down precisely what the problem is from your point of view. State it clearly as a fact in no more than a few sentences.
- Next, write down what you feel about the situation (but no pointing the finger here. Don’t say anything that starts with: "You make me...". This isn’t about blame). Include what you’ve learnt about your past and how you think that might be affecting your worries about money now. Own your role in the arguments!
- Ask: "How can we sort this out together?"
Or say, "I really need your help with this."
Adapt this wording to suit your own needs and situation - without slipping in any blame or shame!
I’ll go into more detail about the best way to talk to your partner a little further down the page. For now, onto the next step...
Step 3: Sort out your paperwork
If your paperwork is in a mess, it’s time to bite the bullet and take charge. Be brave, determined and energetic - and sort it yourself if your partner isn't ready to cooperate.
Sorting out your financial paperwork isn’t going to resolve your money problems or the conflict between the two of you (sorry!). But it will inject some order into the chaos (if indeed that’s part of the problem). And, importantly, you're likely to feel a great deal better for taking some simple but really positive action.
How to effectively deal with money issues in your relationship
Now for a little more help with brushing up your communication skills for when you're trying to deal with money issues in your relationship.
I’m aiming to show you how you can prepare yourself in advance of these important discussions with your partner. If you’re well prepared, you’ll be better able to stop the conversation from turning into a row.
So here goes:
Arguments aren’t unusual in relationships, and money can be a particularly delicate issue. So rest assured that fighting about finances isn’t necessarily bad in itself. However, even if you can’t completely resolve your money issues, you do need to be able to reach a compromise.
If you’d like a little more help with your communication skills, I’ve got you covered with my Loving Communication Kit for Couples.
Life has a way of creating money problems and issues
Change is just part of life. And a shift in your circumstances can have a huge impact on your financial stability. It’s wise to expect that these changes can have a huge impact on your relationship too.
So expect changes and discuss them together, either in advance or while they’re happening. (Or, at the very least, after they’ve happened!)
Here are some examples of the kinds of changes you may well face during the lifetime of your relationship or marriage. Any of these will have an impact on your household budget...
Some of these changes won’t come out of the blue. That means you’ll have the opportunity to plan together how you’ll adapt to new circumstances with less or more money.
Other changes might happen suddenly and totally unexpectedly. They can cause a crisis, and that’s when it’s really important that you can talk honestly with your partner about what’s happened. You will get through the crisis together, providing you communicate effectively.
What to do if your partner remains uncooperative
Perhaps you've followed my steps to get your partner or spouse on board in dealing with the money problems. But he or she still doesn't want to cooperate? In that case, here's what you can do next...
Step 1: Get help
Consider if there's anyone in your family, your partner’s family, your social circle or your community who may be able to talk to your partner.
Of course, your finances are private between the two of you, so I don’t recommend that you reveal the details to a third party. Instead, a trusted person may just be able to help your partner see that you need them to help you deal with the problems you’re facing.
I also highly recommend you talk to a professional counsellor.
I suspect that there are other aspects of your relationship that aren't working either. Money and financial worries probably aren’t the only things that are making you unhappy right now. A little support and advice from a trained therapist can help you to start mending anything that needs a touch of TLC.
If that can't or doesn't help, you may need to consider Step 2.
Step 2: Secure your personal financial situation
If your partner remains unwilling to sort out the problems, then I’m afraid you have little choice but to take steps to ensure your own financial security.
I know that’s probably really hard to hear, and I appreciate that the two of you may be financially dependent on each other. However, if your partner's attitude to money means you're tumbling into debt, you have to take control.
And if you have children, their sense of security most definitely needs to be taken into account too.
For more help with this, take a look at these websites:
Dealing with money issues in a relationship can be challenging, for sure. But a financial crisis doesn’t have to spell disaster, and there’s so much more to the two of you than your bank balance (or lack thereof!).
If you communicate honestly and respectfully, and if your relationship is healthy, you have every chance of reaching agreements about money. You won’t necessarily always think the same way about spending and saving, but you can accommodate each other’s values and beliefs if you’re willing to try.