Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
May 24, 2021
Create a shared vision of your financial present and future.
During a recent counseling session, Sam, 42, and Charlie, 43, (not their real names) who were married with two young children, discussed the ongoing tension during financial conversations and decisions about money.
Sam said, “Whenever we talk about money, I walk on eggshells because Charlie doesn’t trust me. I used to have a problem with online shopping. Even though I’m better now, every purchase I make gets questioned. We argue about even small things like buying sneakers for our kids.”
Us against each other vs. Us against the problem
It was clear from listening to this couple that they had an “us against each other” rather than a “us against the problem” when it came to talking about money. As a result, they accumulated a lot of debt and couldn’t create a strong vision for their financial future.
For couples like Sam and Charlie, it’s important to build trust and to openly discuss financial concerns. Ideally, it’s best to have open disclosure about finances prior to marriage or moving in together. If that doesn’t happen, the next best thing is to devise a plan to do so as soon as possible. There is no time like the present.
Love and money
Money is a touchy subject for most couples. With time and patience, you will be able to identify your fears and concerns. Remember there is no “right” or “wrong” way to deal with issues such as unequal assets, layoffs from work, and credit card debt. Feelings are not “good” or “bad.” They are just real emotions that need to be identified, processed, and shared effectively without blaming your partner.
In “Debt-Proof Your Marriage,” financial expert and author Mary Hunt suggests that money issues are buried deeply in our emotions. Thus, it’s difficult to know what we believe or where our money attitudes come from. However, Hunt believes that, despite potential pitfalls, financial conversations are necessary. She notes, “Knowledge is power. Learning why money is so difficult will help you make a huge leap toward financial harmony.”
Arguments about money are not really about money
Your relationship with money starts during childhood. It is a blend of family background and your unique take on the role it plays in your happiness. A lot of the emotions around money defy logic and are raw and loaded with control, power, and hidden meaning.
In other words, disagreements about money are usually not really about money but your dreams, fears, and insecurities. Writer and researcher Kyle Benson explains that money has a deeper meaning than the dollar value it elicits. It represents security, freedom, and the opportunity to achieve your dreams.
The first step in understanding and communicating your different perspectives about finances as a couple is identifying how your backgrounds and perspectives on money influence your feelings and behavior. Then look at how your emotions affect your discussions and ways of dealing with financial decisions. It’s essential that you be transparent about money and your past history with it.
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Creating a financial vision
According to Dr. John Gottman, couples who talk openly about their hopes and dreams are more likely to prioritize time and resources, including finances. They are more likely to create a sense of purpose as a couple and find happiness. Whether you struggle to get out of debt or want to save for something like a house or your child’s education, prioritizing your goals together is central to sustaining a happy home.
Discussing and writing down your financial goals will elicit a feeling of trust between you and your partner if done thoughtfully and respectfully. Taking time to process your financial dreams can bring you closer. Charlie and Sam created an atmosphere that allowed them to talk honestly about their convictions and financial objectives. Eventually, they developed a savings plan to buy their first home. They shifted their focus from distrusting each other to keeping their eyes on the big picture.
So, how can you make talks about money easier?
First, set ground rules for your discussions. Create ways to have productive and loving talks about money matters with your partner. Remember conversations about money are sensitive and can trigger strong feelings. Have these discussions during times when you won’t be distracted by TV, chores, or other situations.
Use active listening skills. Truly listen to what your partner is saying and try to understand the feelings behind the words. Validate their feelings by offering responses such as, “That must have been hard for you” or “I can understand how you felt that way when I asked to see your credit card bill.”
Fully disclose your financial history, purchases, assets, and debts. Though it may be difficult, share the complete picture of your finances. Ask each other questions such as the following: “How much student loan or credit card debt do you currently carry and at what interest rate?” “Do you have any retirement accounts and if so, how much are you contributing?” “Do you have plans to make a major purchase soon such as a car?”
Solve the differences and challenges between you rather than debating who is right. Set up a money management system or make an appointment with a financial advisor.
None of these suggestions will be a breeze. Take comfort in the fact that, by being vulnerable and sharing information with your partner, you will achieve transparency. You can avoid the guilt and shame that go along with financial insecurity. A shared vision about finances puts you on the way to accomplishing your goal of authenticity and financial freedom.