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How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money: Effective Communication Strategies

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Money is a taboo topic for many couples, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By using effective communication strategies, you can have more productive money conversations with your spouse.

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Money can be an emotional topic, and it’s also an essential issue in relationships. If you want to be on the same page, you’ll need to talk about money with your partner, and you’ll want to approach the conversation thoughtfully and delicately. Here are some tips on how to talk to your spouse about money.

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money

When talking about finances in a relationship, avoiding repeated, unresolved fights is imperative. A Utah State University study showed that couples had a 30% higher likelihood of divorce if they fought about financial decisions weekly. You can potentially save your marriage by promoting financial intimacy through effective communication.

ASSESS YOUR CURRENT FINANCIAL SITUATION

Before discovering your big dreams, you need to assess your current financial situation. Set up a money date to discuss your income, debts, and expenses. Each of you should list:

  • Sources of income: jobs, businesses, side hustles
  • Outstanding debts: student loans, personal loans, credit cards (including the monthly payment, interest rate, and amount due to understand how much you’ll need to pay off)
  • Regular expenses: rent, mortgage, utilities, phone, TV, insurance, transportation, groceries, pets, personal care
  • Irregular expenses: entertainment, eating out, donations, gifts, repairs, legal
  • Savings: investments, retirement, large purchases
  • Taxes: local, state, federal, sales
  • Assets: home, car, jewelry (i.e. anything of substantial value)

EVALUATE WHAT FINANCIAL DECISIONS TRIGGERED THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MONEY

Some of the financial questions to ask your partner include:

  • What are the expenses that you feel worst about?
  • Where are you struggling the most financially?
  • What spending troubles do you have?
  • How can we overcome our financial challenges as a team?

You need to understand what money mistakes you and your spouse have made and how it is actually affecting your finances. For example:

  • Are you paying credit card debt in time?
  • Are you running out of money for rent?
  • Are you struggling to build an emergency fund?

Figure out the exact problem so that you can work on a solution. Not sure where to start, or feeling overwhelmed? A Financial Coach may be able to help you with these areas.

EASE INTO THE CONVERSATION

By easing into the conversation, you will lessen your chance of fighting. Set time aside to devote to your money talks as a couple, and prepare beforehand if possible. This preparation should include outlining your finances and goals on paper, and discovering your money mindset by asking yourself questions around how you grew up as well as your current perspectives regarding money. Once you’ve each done this work, then you can meet together to draft a united plan for your two goals. 

BE OPEN-MINDED

To spark a financial transformation, you need to be open-minded about each other’s history and goals regarding your money situation. Instead of jumping to judgment, work to understand each other, keeping calm as your spouse explains their side and money views. If you get worked up, take a break from the chat and return later.

BE TRANSPARENT

When learning how to talk about money with your partner, you must remain transparent. An honest conversation and open communication is the only way to resolve your financial struggles and minimize the chance of financial infidelity. Be sure not to hide anything, and try to present your thoughts and feelings civilly.

BE RESPECTFUL

If you want to have money talks that don’t lead to fights, then be respectful toward each other.

But this may be easier said than done, as money can be a charged topic, so here are some keys:

  • Let your partner share their piece before commenting, and ask clarifying questions so that you don’t act based on assumptions.
  • Minimize interruptions, name-calling, and trying to “one-up” each other.
  • Avoid harsh criticism and the use of absolute terms like “always” or never,” as these are rarely constructive.

Without the above, money conversations may drive a wedge between you and your partner. Instead, focus on understanding and respecting each other’s financial situations and perspectives. From there, you will have a much better chance of arriving at a reasonable, healthy solution and path forward.

DON’T ASSIGN BLAME

There are many reasons one can end up in debt or with other financial struggles, and those reasons don’t necessarily mean the person has bad character. Financial issues shouldn’t have to bring about a divorce in most circumstances, and this starts with setting aside blame in favor of curiosity about what happened and why. Beyond that, do your best to approach your individual and joint financial challenges as a team — even if you’re not directly helping financially, you can always still be emotionally supportive. Ultimately, in an otherwise-healthy committed partnership, hear each other out before making any serious decisions. and what you learn might just be eye-opening.

FOCUS ON EACH OTHER’S STRENGTHS

Once you feel trusting and safe discussing and working on financial things together, I encourage you to play to your strengths. For instance, maybe one of you excels at creating budgets and helping both of you stick to them with ease, while the other is great at creating additional income. Putting more of your energy towards your specialty can be a game-changer, so focus on your strengths both individually and as a couple, and see how you can work them to your advantage for your family finances.

Common Reasons Couples Fight Over Money

While each relationship is unique, couples tend to argue about money for similar types of reasons. Here are some things that may come up if you talk about money.

STRESS OF UNEMPLOYMENT OR LIVING PAYCHECK-TO-PAYCHECK

When money is tight, tensions can arise in your relationship. Stress from your insufficient income, the desire for more money, and mounting expenses and bills, especially when combined with other relationship pressures, can prove disastrous.

SPENDING HABITS/ADDICTIONS

If one spouse is a shopaholic, the other spouse might feel like they have to consistently control the money. This restriction is no fun for the shopper, and having to “parent” one’s spouse is no fun for the other person, either. This can lead to stress from over the balance between financial freedom and responsibility.

MONEY MANAGEMENT SKILLS – LACK OF FINANCIAL LITERACY

Without financial literacy, your financial plan or budget may be poorly constructed and therefore hard to follow. Without financial clarity and awareness, the money from your budget could slip away without you noticing. Between juggling savings, investments, and expenses, you might feel overwhelmed, which can lead to tension or even a fight.

DEBT

Debt can overwhelm you both emotionally and financially. With interest rates, debt will grow over time, making it challenging to get out of debt once you fall into it. Emotionally, many people feel embarrassed or ashamed about their debt. These stresses often lead to putting energy toward arguments rather than toward reaching your financial goals.

LACK OF TRUST

If one of you has had financial troubles, you might not trust that person — whether it’s your partner or yourself — to make the wisest decisions in the future. The issue can deepen if you’re not being financially transparent with each other, as well. The best way to work on this is to start small, making promises and keeping them, which over time will strengthen that trust.

SALARY DIFFERENCES AND GUILT

If you have a money imbalance, you might resent your partner or be angry that you’re the primary breadwinner. On the other end of the spectrum, you may feel guilty about not working or earning enough money, especially if your significant other works and/or earns more. Either way, this could easily cause an argument with your spouse about money.

How to Plan Together

Once you’ve worked out those issues enough to operate as a financial team, next up is making a joint financial plan. If you’re looking for help getting started, take advantage of a free consultation with me!

AGREE ON COMMON GOALS, AND CONSIDER A VISION BOARD

I recommend that each of you sketches out your individual goals on your own. Then, when you get together, you can determine which ones you have in common. Maybe your partner even thought of something that you’d like to add to your list, as well.

This is a great communication builder! Take the ideas that you agree on, and consider creating a vision board, whether via Pinterest, a collage, or just cutting out pictures from magazines. That takes you back to elementary school, right?!

No matter your approach, the key is to create something that can regularly remind you of and inspire you about your goals. Some ideas for your vision board include:

  • Your dream house
  • Dream neighborhood
  • Your dream car
  • Aspirational hobbies
  • Your dream family
  • A dream job or career

HAVE FINANCIAL MEETINGS AS A COUPLE

After these initial meetings, set up regular times to discuss your finances and budgeting. To start, I recommend weekly money dates, and as you make progress, you can decide whether to decrease the frequency, i.e. to monthly or quarterly money dates.

During these meetings, you should chat about your present finances while also touching base about your incomes, career outlooks, debts, savings, and spending habits. From there, you can identify any areas for improvement, resolve any issues, and figure out how to get on track.

DON’T JUST TALK NUMBERS; TALK VALUES

While your income level can have a profound impact on your life, money alone is not the secret to happiness, and numbers alone aren’t the key to thriving financially. The more you share your values, the easier it gets to act as financial teammates. Why?

First, it’s tougher to argue with someone who is just sharing their experiences or values, and so that’s one way to start having some healthy money talks. The trust and sense of safety you build in doing so creates a solid foundation for more complex talks later.

Understanding your partner will also help you speak more constructively and choose approaches that actually resonate for everyone involved. After all, the more information you have, the better your suggestions, solutions, and plans will be.

While you’re talking about values, it can also help to remember what matters most and why you’re actually doing the work of building a relationship with this person. Take a moment to acknowledge what the other person means to you, and your shared goodwill will only increase.

CONSULT A FINANCIAL ADVISOR OR FINANCIAL COACH

Either a financial advisor or a Couples Financial Coach could potentially operate as a neutral third party, helping you work with your partner to overcome your financial struggles. These different professionals also may be able to help you fill in your financial literacy gaps, making it easier to construct workable solutions.

FAQ

Here are some common questions about talking to your spouse about money.

HOW DO I TALK TO MY SPOUSE ABOUT MONEY WITHOUT FIGHTING?

If you want to avoid fighting while having money conversations, try to:

  • Choose a priority, and stay focused on that issue
  • Stay calm and respectful, and avoid judging yourself or your partner
  • Beforehand, identify your major points, and consider how to share them kindly
  • Keep your feelings in check; express them without letting them run the show
  • Look at the numbers objectively and honestly
  • Minimize distractions, i.e. work emails, cell phones, awake children
  • Be and remain fully transparent
  • Hire a financial consultant

HOW DO I START A CONVERSATION WITH MY SPOUSE ABOUT MONEY?

Don’t overthink it — just say that you’ve recently been thinking about finances, and you’d like to talk with them about money. Ask them to do what we discussed above, i.e. assess their current finances, brainstorm their goals, and list their financial concerns about both of your situations. Once you have each completed this preparation, you can meet together at a relaxing time and place to chat.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH MONEY ISSUES IN MARRIAGE?

If you have money issues in free first consultation to get to the bottom of your money issues.

Check out my blog to learn more about tackling finances as a couple.


Want to level up your game around money in your relationship? My free quiz will help you learn your Couple’s Money Personality Type AND how you can grow from there!


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adamkol

Adam Kol, The Couples Financial Coach, helps couples who love each other make sure the money conversation doesn't get in the way. He's a Certified Mediator, Attorney, and former Financial Advisor with Duke Law and NYU Law degrees. Adam has been seen in The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, and CNBC.