Now is a great time to talk money with your partner

The only way to improve our money behaviors — and our relationships — is by having more meaningful conversations about money.

by Todd S. Smith — 

Growing up, we knew when the household bills came due. There was always a day or two when my sisters and I dared not bother our mother, who had the responsibility of paying the bills and balancing the checkbook. Frankly, we quickly learned to just stay away at that time. Those couple of days were always shrouded in a heavy, anxiety-laden atmosphere, looming like a smog blanket in Phoenix waiting for a storm to wash it away.

In retrospect, I wonder what my father’s role was; he never seemed to be present, emotionally or physically. I suspect the only conversations my parents ever had about money involved blaming one another, or questioning how much was being spent, and where. Clearly my mother was the saver in the family, while my father was a successful spendthrift. With two entirely different money personalities and a complete lack of communication, it is a wonder they have survived 40 years of marriage.

My parents’ story is not uncommon. Most of us are ill-equipped to adequately discuss money matters. Unfortunately, our behavior and our conversations about money tend to be after-the-fact, defensive or reactive discourses, rather than proactive, deliberate, soul-to-soul discussions. It is this lack of expression, and not the oft-presumed lack of money, that propels finances to the forefront of precursors to marital discord.

Meaningful money conversations

The only way to improve our money behaviors — and our relationships — is by having more meaningful conversations about money. We must embrace unified, soul-to-soul conversations as the compass for our financial and marital interactions, rather than permitting neglect or misdirected communication to become the tipping point toward conflict and disaster.

Discussing money is rarely easy, though. For many people, conversations about finances are seldom constructive; rather, they are often intensely emotional, personal and reactive. We tend to find these conversations incredibly difficult because we never learned effective ways to discuss financial matters, whether with ourselves, our families or our partners.

There are a few things to consider when setting the stage to engage in a soul-to-soul money conversation with your partner. First, determine an appropriate time for the conversation, and a place with few distractions. You also want to have a plan for what you will talk about. Remember to start small; you do not want to overwhelm your partner in the course of a single discussion.

Check to make sure your partner is in a good frame of mind to have this conversation. And whatever you do, wait until the storm has passed. Trying to have a conversation when either of you is overly emotional will undoubtedly leave you both feeling frustrated, again.

Money conversation ice breakers

Here are some conversation starters that might make it easier to broach the potentially challenging subject of money:

  • What work do you each want to do to utilize your talents?
  • What do you want out of your relationship: family, sincerity, companionship, success? Fill in the blank. How is this defined?
  • How do you like to take care of yourselves: exercise, golf, yoga, vacations, etc?
  • How do you like to care for each other: by making breakfast in bed, taking the kids out to let the other sleep in, etc?
  • What makes life less burdensome: a cleaning person, both of you being home in the evenings, etc?
  • What is your soul’s purpose and what are you here to do?
  • What are your most lasting childhood memories of money? Your parents’ attitudes about money will influence your beliefs and behavior as an adult.
  • What is the most important thing money can provide for you? Someone who answers “self-worth, friendship or love” might be a spender, while someone who says “security” may be more focused on saving.
  • What would you do if you won $200,000 in the lottery? Why not a million? Because $200,000 is a very realistic amount for you and your partner to build together, and you should probably let each other know how you would want to spend it.
  • Where would you be most likely to put your savings: under the mattress, in a blue-chip stock mutual fund or into the latest high-tech IPO (initial public offering)? It is important that you understand each other’s risk tolerance and structure your investments so that neither of you loses sleep over them.
  • Recall a money discussion that might have ended differently, had it focused more on soul-to-soul, partnership-related questions. Can you reprise the conversation with that new focus?
  • What are some money messages you have encountered lately? List some money messages you have recently sent yourselves, individually and as a couple. Have you been nourishing yourself and your partner? Why or why not?

If more people had constructive discussions about money prior to and during their unions, they would experience far less anxiety and frustration and fewer arguments. They also would work better as a team to pursue their dreams, both individually and collectively. Most likely, they would experience money as a means to nourish themselves and their relationship, rather than as a source of division and conflict.

If you have never had a truly constructive conversation with your partner about money, there is no better time than today. Have fun dreaming, envisioning and co-creating your future together. Do not view money — or its lack — as a stumbling block. Instead, see it as one of the many tools available for expressing yourselves and shaping the lives you deserve.

 

Todd S. Smith, Certified Financial Planner™, is a financial author, speaker and coach who helps working adults navigate the complex financial landscape to achieve greater economic success and prosperity. 602-485-3896, www.azmythfinancial.com or todd@azmythfinancial.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 4, August/September 2007.

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