Can you guess the two biggest pain points in just about every relationship?
Most couples biggest pain points are money and sex. Since this is a personal finance blog, you probably want to hear about money. 😉
Think about your relationship. If you’re single, think back to a past relationship. What do you and your partner argue about the most? Where does money rank on that list? I’m willing to bet it’s toward the top.
What if there was a way to minimize the stress caused by money? The good news is, there is a way.
Real Relationships Need Real Conversations About Things that Matter
When my wife and I started dating in the summer of 2013, we had been best friends for four years already. Our love story was mostly how I pictured falling in love would be. I would eventually fall in love with my best friend, and that’s exactly how it happened.
A few months into dating, we knew this was the real deal. How did we know that? We talked about it. Our conversation basically went something like this, “I love you and want to marry you someday.” “I love you too, and I want to marry you someday too.”
This was by no means a proposal, but our way of getting on the same page with where our relationship was heading. I didn’t buy a ring for another couple months, and when I proposed, I still surprised the socks off of Jenna! 🙂
Just as we talked about our future together, we knew it was important to talk about our past. Once we decided on spending forever together, we became determined to not have any secrets from each other. This included money.
Our First Money Obstacle: A Disagreement of Priorities
We knew it was important to get on the same page with our finances, and knew creating a budget was our first step. At the time we were only dating, so we made separate budgets.
Neither of us had ever made a budget before, so we gave each other permission to analyze for gaps or areas we could save money. We wanted fresh, unbiased eyes to find the holes and unnecessary spending.
One glaring expense Jenna found in my budget was Amway materials. At the time, I was involved in selling Amway and trying to grow a profitable business. Part of that was buying business materials and training support. I think it cost me $50 or so each month, on top of the products I bought and used.
To me, these materials were vital in growing my Amway business. I couldn’t succeed without them! Jenna, on the other hand, saw them as completely unnecessary and irrational because I wasn’t actually doing very much with Amway.
The truth is, I was a really bad salesperson, so this money was basically money being thrown down the drain every month. Cue toilet flushing sound byte!
Jenna saw this, but I had a hard time letting go. Our primary goal was to get out of debt, and Amway was getting in the way of that. It didn’t align with our priorities so it had to go.
This was the first of many times we worked together to determine our budgeting priorities. It didn’t become a huge argument or shouting match, but it definitely created stress and unwanted strain.
What’s Stopping You From Reaching Your Financial Goals?
Almost every couple has conflicting priorities blocking them from reaching their money goals. It might be spending vs saving, or how much to spend going out to eat each month. Figure out what your money conflicts are and start talking about them.
In a great post on LuxeStrategist, her fiance sums this up nicely. “Talking comfortably about money is one of THE most fundamental healthy habits of personal finance….Start anywhere—the cable bill, your 401K, anything—and begin to get comfortable discussing it.“
When you first start talking about money, it will be uncomfortable. That’s okay! The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Like Nike says, “Just Do It!”
A Few Alarming Statistics on Relationships and Money
- American Psychology Association Survey: 31% of adults report that money is a major source of conflict in their relationship, and it often goes unresolved.
- SunTrust Bank: 35% of respondents said finances are a primary cause of stress in their relationship
- Based off my own research: fighting over money is consistently in the top 5 reasons people get divorced!
- The average divorce in the U.S. costs between $15-30,000. Most of that is spent on legal fees.
It’s not all bad news for relationships and money though! Have hope! Research shows that talking about money is a significant factor in healthy, happy relationships.
- TD Bank: Couples who talk about money frequently are happier than those who don’t talk about money often.
- Ameriprise: 68% of couples who are on the same page financially describe their communication as “perfect” or “very good”.
What Happens If You Don’t Talk About Money?
I asked this question to Lisa of Mad Money Monster. She runs a personal finance blog to help families get their finances in order so they can live the best life possible. Her and her Husband, Mr. Mad Money Monster turned their finances completely around and now save over 70% of their income. They are well on their way to early retirement. Here’s her top 3 thoughts on “What can happen if you don’t talk about money”:
“1. You know less about your partner: When you know less about your partner, you are creating a gap in your relationship – and where there is a gap, a crater can form. Keep your financial intimacy a priority and talk about your money!
2. You’re not on the same financial page: Not being on the same financial page means you don’t know where your money is going, how your money is being budgeted, or what your net worth is.
3. You could divorce: Yes, you read that right! You could actually get divorced over your lack of communication over money. It happens ALL THE TIME.”
My Two Cents
1. If you avoid money talks, you give resentment an opportunity to enter your relationship:
When your partner doesn’t stick to the budget or you don’t agree with the way they spend money it can create a thorn in your relationship.
If you ignore it, chances are the thorn will grow as you become more and more frustrated by their actions. Eventually you’re full of resentment toward your partner, which creates a divide, pushing you further apart.
Picture a snowball rolling down a hill. At first, it’s just a small clump of snow gently rolling. But as time goes on it gets bigger and bigger. It rolls faster and more out of control. The longer it rolls, the bigger and more dangerous it becomes, destroying everything in its path.
The same is true for your relationship. The longer you avoid talking about money, the more dangerous and volatile it will be for your relationship. However, if you stop the snowball before it builds momentum, the damage will be much more minimal.
2. You May Start Hiding Money or Purchases: One of the worst things you can do is lie to your partner about money. When we lie, it’s a choice to not invest in our relationship. Of course, there’s a chance we will never get caught, but it’s just not worth it.
Being dishonest about how much money we spend or whether we stick to the budget jeopardizes long term financial goals. It also ruins trust that took so long to create.
A family friend of ours shared her experience of ruined trust in her marriage. Her husband handled the budget and he generally dictated how they should spend money. It was less of a family decision and more of him just making the decisions.
As a result, she didn’t feel valued, or like her husband trusted her to make smart purchases for their family.
The lack of trust she felt caused her to buy stuff out of spite and to get his attention. On top of that, she opened credit cards to buy even more and retaliate further. Eventually she began to hide the credit card purchases and piled up a ton of debt.
When she finally told him about it, the primary issue came back to trust. She didn’t feel trusted enough to help make family decisions, and he didn’t trust how she spent money, especially after racking up debt.
They found themselves in a vicious cycle of distrust toward each other, and in the end divorced. Once trust is broken, it’s hard to rebuild. It’s like a broken mirror. It will take forever to put all the pieces back together, and even when you do, there will be lasting scars.
How to Get the Conversation Started
If you and your partner haven’t broken ground on talking about money, that’s okay. It can be really nerve racking and a bit scary. It takes a lot of trust and vulnerability to open up about such a personal and sensitive topic. To ease the nerves, keep the following ideas in mind when you open up to each other.
Being Open and Honest From the Beginning is the Best Thing For Your Relationship
We had a bit of an advantage. We knew a lot about each other already, and had a little insight to the financial baggage each of us was bringing to the relationship.
But even if you’ve never shared your financial baggage with your partner, it’s okay. The most important thing is to be completely open and honest, and be willing to be vulnerable.
When we make ourselves vulnerable, we create opportunities to grow our relationships deeper and more meaningful. All great relationships become better and more intimate with time, and talking about money with your partner is an awesome way to do that. I’ll tell you how Jenna and I did this in just a minute!
A Few Important Questions to Talk About
If you are nervous to bring your baggage into the light, don’t be scared by all the divorce talk earlier. The goal of marriage is happily ever after, not separating assets in divorce court. Ask yourself these starter questions to get the ball rolling.
- What is your attitude toward money? Are you a spender or a saver? Are you somewhere in between
What is your current financial situation?
Do you have debt? How much? What kinds of debt?
How did you develop your attitudes toward money? Do you mimic your family habits or avoid them like crazy?
- Do you have a budget?
- Is it okay to lend money to family? To friends?
- Do you tithe or give to charity?
- Do you impulse buy or shop when you’re stressed?
- What are your thoughts on investing?
- Do you believe in saving?
- What age would you like to retire at?
If you look at this list and get overwhelmed, don’t panic. If you’re not ready to tackle all of them right away, start with the first 3. You will still make huge progress in getting on the same financial page, even if you only focus on those!
Whether you choose just three or all of them, the most important part is ACTUALLY SITTING DOWN AND TALKING ABOUT IT. Leave the judgement aside and be open to hearing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Judgement and ridicule is a sure way discourage your partner from talking about money in the future.
Want a printable worksheet to work through these questions (and a few more)? 5 minutes could literally change your life and your marriage.
It will be helpful to answer these questions on your own first, and then talk about it together. That’s what Jenna and I did, and it helped a lot.
Bobby Hoyt, founder of Millennial Money Man published an article recently about how he and his wife handle money. Spoiler alert, they talk about money A LOT!
“Instead, we just talk about things as often as we can, which builds trust that we’re both going to do what we need to do. This may be overkill (and mostly due to the fact that I’m a personal finance blogger by trade), but my wife and I talk about our finances daily.”
How We Handled Our First Big Money Conversation
When we knew our relationship was headed toward marriage, we decided to have a big talk and lay all of our cards on the table. Each of us wanted to know exactly what we were getting into.
We made a plan to talk about all of our past relationships, any bad life experiences that left lasting impacts, our biggest struggles in life, and any other baggage we brought to the relationship (i.e. debt, attitudes about money, bad habits). Sounds like a grand ole time, huh!
This was a defining moment in our relationship. We brought the good, the bad, and the extremely ugly into the light for each other to see. Our talk was about a lot more than just money, which made it more intense for us. However, sharing your financial past, attitudes, and bad habits is enough to get your heart beating a bit faster and make palms sweat.
We Made a Plan and Stuck to it
We chose a time and a place to talk, just like a date. Then we spent about a week thinking and praying about our past demons. We both still had roommates at the time, so we spent a good three to four hours talking in my room, away from all other ears.
I told Jenna things I’d never told anyone before. I shared my money philosophy and where it came from, how much debt I had, the stupid financial mistakes I made in college, how little I had saved, and everything else that was relevant.
In return, I listened to everything she told me. We didn’t judge or ridicule, but simply listened and talked about how our past would impact our relationship going forward.
It was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. I bared my soul and hoped Jenna would still love me and want to continue dating me. It was also one of the most fulfilling and rewarding conversations I’ve ever had. Our openness, honesty, and vulnerability created a deeper love and intimacy in our relationship. We grew closer together.
If you want a taste of the good life, start having the hard conversations as soon as possible.
Get on the Same Page by Setting Joint Money Goals for Your Relationship
A fantastic first step toward creating new, healthy money habits is to talk about financial goals. Sharing goals with your partner is an amazing way to get a glimpse of their hopes and dreams. It’s also a good chance to see if your goals align.
Another top personal finance blogger, Mystery Money Man regularly writes about frugality, side hustles, marriage, parenting, and all things family finance related. He and his wife have been married for 18 years, and he had this to say about long-term family money health:
“In my experience, one of the best ways for couples to come together on money issues is actually to shift the focus AWAY from day-to-day money management. Instead, spend your energy identifying and establishing values and goals for your life together. Once you both share a common dream or goal, it’ll be easier to gain the shared commitment.
So often, one partner is wired to manage money; saving, budgeting etc. while the other doesn’t share the same aptitude or interest. I’ve counseled thousands of couples on finances, and almost always it’s one spouse that handles the money.
So, instead take the time to dream together. Perhaps the goal is to travel, start a business, or have a family. Maybe it’s financial independence. Whatever it is, once you’ve agreed on the kind of life you want to experience together, the money conversations will become a lot easier.”
Don’t Let Income Inequality Stir Up Tension
Income inequality is super common. Historically men have been the major breadwinners in the family. However, that’s not always the case anymore, which is stinking awesome! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 37% of wives earned more than their husbands in 2014.
It can be really easy for income disparity to cause tension, resentment, or even jealousy in a relationship.
Mrs. Frugal Asian Finance relates to spousal envy in a recent article. She writes, “But I also know that spousal envy has destroyed many marriages just because one spouse can’t take it when their other half is more successful than them. I don’t want that to happen to Mr. FAF and me. I want to acknowledge the problem so that I can find an effective solution to it rather than letting my envy build up and maybe explode one day.”
If you and your partner are struggling with this, don’t let it tear you apart. Try some of these tips to keep the tension at bay and come closer together.
1. Tell your partner how you feel: if you’re feeling guilty, ashamed, or frustrated by income disparity, share your feelings with your partner. If you’ve never told your partner how you feel about making more or less money than them, there’s a good chance they don’t have a clue.
I like to think I’m a pretty intuitive husband and can guess how my wife is feeling. The truth is, a lot of times I have no idea unless she tells me. Only then can we work through the tension and get back on the same page. I’m so thankful that Jenna trusts me enough to be open with her feelings.
2. Budget and plan together: Budgeting is a team effort. Yes, one person may do the majority of the bill paying and tinkering with numbers, but it’s vital for both parties to be involved.
When you plan and work together, you eliminate spontaneous spending, and it centers you on your financial goals. It helps alleviate the tension of who made the money, and focus on how to spend, save, or invest it.
3. Combine your finances: The best thing Jenna and I did was combine our finances when we got married. Every dollar we make funnels into the same bank account, so there’s no “my” money or “her” money. It’s all OUR money.
This way I don’t care that I make significantly less than my wife. I don’t feel jealous or ashamed. I’m excited for my wife’s salary and every raise she gets. And she’s just as excited when I get a salary increase. When one of us wins, we both win.
Now for the Hard Part: Sticking to the Budget
This is an amazing act of love and commitment. Jenna and I fought with our budget for a long time and felt lots of frustration. But the important thing is we never gave up.
We chose to keep budgeting. Even on the days we didn’t want to. There were times when it would’ve been much more fun and easier to splurge or spend more than we planned. Instead, we chose to budget. It’s not always fun or what we want to do, but it’s a choice to follow it every day. Sticking to the budget is a promise to your partner to love them, to work together, to put our goal ahead of my goals.
I talked with one of my favorite bloggers, Josh of Monkey Free Me, when writing this article. He’s all about helping people get the “monkey off their back” (i.e. debt and financial trouble). He’s created a sweet community and has a TON of great resources to help his readers take control of their lives.
I asked him if he had any advice on how communicating about money has helped improve his relationship or increase intimacy. Here’s his answer:
“Biblically we have always agreed that we are one unit, that needs to work together financially and spiritually. We don’t believe in debt or owing money to others and our lives are an open book with complete trust in every way. This allows us to talk about money daily without hurt feelings or walls going up in the conversation.
It took us years to get to this point, and it’s amazing to be able to see our wealth grow together as a team because we have a plan. We are paid the 25th, and budget that evening, the 27th everything is autopaid out of the account and allocated to it’s proper place. Each Sunday night we check to make sure the budget is still good and our kids help in these conversations. We grow as a family each week and it brings us together because we don’t have financial stresses or confusion.”
He paints a beautiful picture of what a relationship can be like when we work together as a team in our finances. When we put aside our worries, fears, and past mistakes, we are free to build a relationship full of love, trust, and intimacy. We also get to work together to create a beautiful family legacy of financial security and freedom.
Your Relationship is Too Important to Avoid Talking About Money.
When you talk about money with your partner, you choose to invest in them and your future. It’s one of the best investments you could ever make.
Let Me Know in the Comments
What do you think? How has talking about money impacted your relationship?