How to speak to your partner about money

2012-08-25 11:10

Avoid the emotional crunch and make sure you have regular chats, writes Maya Fisher-French

The first question I asked Carl Richards when I had the opportunity to interview him was: “How do you speak to your partner about money?”

My question to Richards, the author of Behavior Gap: Simple ways to stop doing dumb things with money, came from a personal experience I had had the day before when a conversation about money evoked an emotional response from my husband.

In our household I tend to be the one who is more emotional about money. Growing up with financial upheaval left me with serious money control issues. It may have spawned a career, but my husband has had to learn to deal with my occasional emotional outbursts.

So this reaction was very different in terms of our marriage dynamic. I was concerned about taking out a mortgage bond only in my name as it would max out my credit accessibility should I need credit in the case of an emergency. My husband felt that I didn’t trust him to step in if I was in financial difficulty.

I prefer to be financially independent and therefore see our finances in separate “pots”; while my husband sees our finances jointly, as part of one household.

I then quoted divorce statistics and the fact that the majority of women are left financially vulnerable as my rationale?– these are the facts, right?

My husband was deeply offended that I would even think of him behaving in that way – also an understandable response.

But who is right? Is there even a right or wrong response?

Money is a highly emotional topic. In fact, it is cited as the foremost reason for divorce. So having a relationship where you can speak openly about money is very important, but it is not easy and it all stems from understanding your own “triggers” and emotions concerning money.

In his book, Richards relates a conversation that he had with his wife: “One day, my wife mentioned that her friend had recently redone her kitchen. As she explained all of the renovations, I started doing mental arithmetic that quickly added up to big dollars.

Instead of engaging in a fun conversation about why my wife liked the kitchen and what she thought was cool about it, I responded with my typical ‘we can’t afford that’.

My wife gave me a confused look and said: ‘What are you talking about?’

“Fifteen years of marriage and I still haven’t learnt that when my wife talks about a new kitchen it doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to remodel her kitchen. She was only discussing something of interest to her that she thought may be of interest to me.”

Richards says we often use money as a stand-in for deeper issues we do not want to discuss. We may say we can’t afford something because we are anxious about the future (this is definitely on my list), or because we think we don’t deserve the things we want.

“So we talk about (or argue about) the expensive leather jacket or the trip to the beach, when what we are feeling goes much deeper and is much, much more interesting,” writes Richards.

The point that Richards makes is that disagreements about money are not a question of who is right, but an opportunity for us to recognise that we can’t impose our views of money and our expectations about it on other people.

“The elephant in the living room may look pink to you and green to your spouse. But you still need to talk about (it),” says Richards.

Ways to get the tough conversation done

» Get into the habit of talking about money on a regular basis, not just when there is a crisis. Richards recommends having a monthly appointment with your partner in which you discuss money. Make it at a regular time and place that is always in your diary.

» Find a place to meet and make it your “money” place. It must not be in your home but somewhere neutral, like a coffee shop.

» At your monthly meeting, discuss your monthly budget and make your financial plans. Discuss your financial goals and how you will reach them.

 This is also the place to discuss money issues like overspending on a credit card, for example.

» During the rest of the month, you do not discuss money, especially if you are feeling emotional about it.

Have a “to discuss” box in the house where you can make notes on what you want to discuss or that credit card bill that nearly gave you a heart attack. Leave your money issues for your monthly appointment.

» When you do talk about money with your partner, you need to realise that you are not talking about spreadsheets and numbers – it is emotional.

So if you start to feel emotional, or your partner gets emotional during a money discussion, stop the conversation and say: “What is this really about? How are you feeling about this?”

» Richards says that when talking about money, have a “no shame no blame rule”. Your partner will not want to talk about money if they feel “blamed”. Discuss the problem and a way to resolve it together

» These could be some things to discuss with your partner:
– The role money plays in your life
– Things that need to happen in the next few years for you to feel like you are making good progress
– Money mistakes you have made in the past that you want to avoid in future


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