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How to talk about money with your spouse

6 Ways to Talk About Money With Your Spouse—And Achieve Financial Harmony

If you don’t always see eye-to-eye with your spouse on financial matters, it doesn’t have to be a sore spot. Though finances can be the leading cause of stress in relationships, conversations with your significant other about spending habits, earnings expectations, and other money issues can be civil—and even productive. But first, you need to understand the root cause of your partner’s financial decision-making.

“For most people, there are a lot of emotionally charged memories about money,” says Ed Coambs, a Certified Financial Planner and licensed marriage and family therapist at Carolinas Couples Counseling. Add in different communications styles, disparate earnings, and different approaches to spending, and the discussion can get heated quickly.

If your inclination is to avoid money talks altogether, fight it. Instead, experts like Coambs suggest “active communication,” which requires full transparency and ongoing talks. “Being able to slow down and reflect on how [your past is] shaping your current reality can be a really important first step,” adds Coambs.

Ready to build more trust with your spouse and achieve the financial wellness you both deserve? Follow these six strategies:

1. Understand your partner’s financial backstory

When you and your spouse get into tense discussions about money, you’re bringing your entire financial history to the table.

“Most people start from a place of, ‘What’s bothering us today?'” says Coambs. But unresolved emotional issues from childhood connected to money can resurface, says Coambs.

Say you buy a less expensive generic brand of peanut butter, while your partner prefers a more expensive organic label. This might seem like a minor difference, but if money was tight growing up, pinching pennies at the grocery store may be deeply connected to your sense of financial security. Your partner, however could have a different financial backstory.

Financial differences can cause friction—or they can lead to more positive conversations. By doing so, and reserving judgment about your partner’s past, you can build financial trust.

2. Plan regular money dates

Though it might not be the first theme that comes to mind for a night out, putting weekly or monthly money dates on the calendar to talk about finances can set you up for success. Make sure you pick a time when you won’t be distracted by other commitments and find a way to make the meetings special, like ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant or walking your favorite trail.

Setting money dates also gives you time to decompress. “When you have an expected time, it’s like setting the release valve on your pressure cooker,” says Coambs.

Don’t forget to talk about your financial wins, such as saving up for a weekend getaway or making your mortgage payments. Positive discourse can put you both at ease and sharpen a shared vision for the future.

3. Keep a running log of money issues

Coambs encourages couples to keep a journal of any financial issues that arise between money dates. Instead of springing information on your spouse in the middle of dinner, you can hold these thoughts and bring them up at the right time.

Let’s say you learned your partner has debt that you weren’t aware of. When you write the experience down, it diffuses the emotional charge.

“When couples start writing down their issues, they start identifying themes,” says Coambs. You may start to recognize that money fights typically arise over issues of control, fear, or shame, he adds.

4. Get an idea of your spouse’s financial style

In coupledom, there’s often a “saver” and a “spender.” But these roles can be limiting. Instead, reframe them, suggests Coambs. “Some people can be very present-oriented. They might say, ‘I just want to go out, have a nice bottle of wine,'” says Coambs. Someone who is more future-oriented may say, “I just don’t understand why it’s so important to decorate the house. We need to be saving for retirement,'” says Coambs.

Sticky, sure. But it is possible to find a balance between present desires and future security. It just requires stepping into your partner’s shoes.

The present-oriented spouse, for example, agreed to decorate, but without some of the expensive bells and whistles. The future-oriented spouse still puts money in a savings account but stopped squirreling away every dollar.

5. Use tact when approaching individual earnings

You make more. Your partner makes less. This dynamic can create challenges in a relationship, says Coambs.

For some, being a financial provider is an expression of love. For others, pursuing the arts or a passion project means everything. For the latter, “love equals money is not the equation in their head,” says Coambs.

It’s important to have conversations with your spouse about the value of their work, and how earnings play into that. “The mental value can be equal, even if the monetary value isn’t,” says Coambs. If the lower-earning spouse feels that their financial burden is too heavy, for example, you may need to adjust how much they contribute toward shared goals.

Higher earners may also feel shackled by their careers. If one partner plans to work part time, go back to school, or stay at home to raise children, discuss early on how that looks financially. You may need to make lifestyle adjustments as a couple.

6. Budget for shared goals

Perhaps you and your spouse share a love of international travel, or maybe you have your eyes on a dream home. Pinpointing where your goals and passions intersect can help you approach issues of spending and saving in the areas where your values and objectives may differ.

Once you identify a shared goal, here’s how to save for it:

  • Have the planning conversation: Say you’re planning a trip to celebrate your anniversary. Once you and your spouse figure out your estimated total expenses, determine how much you need to set aside each month.
  • Trim the budget: Sacrifice isn’t easy, but knowing neither of you are purchasing a $1,600 bike or $300 pair of boots can take some of the bite out of cutbacks.
  • Schedule a check-in: During your monthly money dates, put reviewing your progress on the agenda. Did you and your partner adjust your spending; put that $500 dollars into savings? “If the changes are made, then you have buy-in,” says Coambs.

If you encounter resistance as you work towards shared goals, a therapist or mediator can help you recognize what’s holding you or your spouse back.

With candid communication and a little patience, you and your partner can tackle your money challenges, and strengthen your relationship in the process.

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