We’ve all heard that money is one of the leading causes of stress in relationships. I’ve seen this stress emerge from talking about money too much, not talking about it at all, and everything in between. So, what can couples do to reduce the stress? I suggest they stop, take a deep breath, and spend time listing to their partner. What are his or her fears? What are his or her goals? What can you learn from him or her?
I’m not saying this is easy. Most of us have different money personalities than our partner – maybe one of you is a spender and one is a saver. In the case of my husband and I, I would really love to give all of our money away and my husband can think of a million ways to spend it. If you have a different money personality than your partner, how do you meet in the middle?
So often compromise is the suggested solution. I’m not big on compromise – it sounds like a last resort that leaves you both with a less than perfect outcome. What if you could come to the table acknowledging there might be a third way that neither of you had thought of before? Even if you are the “money person” in the relationship, what would it mean to recognize that both of your opinions matter and that you both have something to learn?
When my husband and I started dating it was pretty clear that I was more of a “money person.” I enjoyed budgeting and had a solid sense of my financial goals. At that time, my husband had some anxiety around talking about money, he was satisfied to just make ends meet. It’s taken quite a few years, but we’ve come to a place where we can talk about money without inciting anxiety or resentment. It’s not perfect, but it’s working. I think one of the biggest challenges was learning how to listen to each other – hearing the message behind the words. For me, the biggest challenge was realizing that even though I came to our marriage with more money knowledge, that doesn’t mean that I know more about how we should handle our finances.
I spent the first year or two of our marriage just handling our money alone. I thought it would save Mr. Classy Frugalist some anxiety and give me the joy of putting some of my financial skills into practice. What I began to realize was that when I did that “our money” became “my money.” Our financial life reflected my dreams, goals, and anxieties – but my husband wasn’t well reflected there. Then, we started Burgers & Budgets and things began to change.
Things changed because we learned how to listen. My husband learned that talking about money doesn’t always have to be anxiety producing and he knows just as much as me about our dreams, goals, and how our money can fuel them. I learned how to set aside my pride and realize my way wasn’t always the right one. What started as an investment in our money life, has really become an investment in our relationship. It’s another opportunity for us to learn and grow together, all while recognizing and leaning into each other’s strengths.
So, how do you actually have these conversations? Start with your dreams and values then move closer to your financial life today. Here are some questions to start with:
1. In an ideal world, what would our life look like in 10 years? Each person answers from their own perspective.
2. What are the 3-5 people, places, things, and/or causes that matter most to you right now? Don’t overthink it. Want to take this one step further? Try doing this values activity together.
3. What’s one way that you used money recently that you feel good about and why?
As you talk, really listen to your partner. Don’t analyze the similarities and differences in your responses. Listen closely and ask questions so you can learn the “why” behind the “what” that your partner is sharing. The goal of this conversation is to form empathy for your partner by developing a better understanding of his or her goals and values. Once you agree on the big picture, it’s easier to dig into the details.
Ready to jump in? Settle down on the couch with a glass of wine or take a picnic to the park. Relax, listen, share, and love. Still a little anxious? Keep the conversation short – you can even set a timer for 30 minutes.
I’d love to hear what you learn about your partner and yourself during this activity. Share in the comments below! I’ll share more next week about what I’m learning from my partner.