Business and pleasure? How to talk about money in a relationship

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  • Avoiding discussions about money issues can damage your relationship on many levels.
  • Talk about financial goals and plan for how to reach them.
  • Be honest and approach financial issues as discussions, rather than arguments.
  • Seek outside help if you can’t resolve issues. 

According to relationship expert and author Jen Almquist, money and sex are two of the most difficult topics for couples to discuss openly. There is something intimate and private about our relationship with money: money is tied up with our values and belief systems, our cultural backgrounds, our upbringings and our life choices. It reveals a lot about who we are and,, therefore broaching practical issues around money can feel exposing. 

Many couples simply avoid talking about money issues, rather than speaking openly about them. This avoidance can be damaging to the relationship on many levels. Jen Almquist explains: "Without these conversations, assumptions are made, damaging secrets can be kept, and the freedom of being known and accepted is impossible to achieve."

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Different attitudes to spending and saving, opposing value systems, debt and financial crises are some of the issues that might cause serious cracks in a relationship if they are not handled sensitively. Money is often closely tied up with power and security and these issues can quickly become fertile ground for power struggles between partners. 

Like any other issue in a relationship, the only way to overcome it is to work through it. This requires an openness and a willingness to have difficult conversations with your partner when issues arise. It also helps hugely to have finance centered conversations before issues arise. It requires patience, sensitivity and the ability to be honest.

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Talk about financial goals

This is a conversation that seems like an obvious one, but it is one that is often neglected in partnerships. Whether you are in a new relationship or a five-year marriage, it is a great way to help you to understand each other and what it is you’d like to each achieve financially in the short and long term. Financial expectations and priorities shift as people’s lives change, so it’s a good idea to have these conversations at least once a year to touch base about your individual and joint financial goals. 

Create joint goals and plans on how to reach them

Find common goals and then work together on a plan to reach them. You might each need to make a sacrifice or compromise on your spending to reach your joint goal. For example, if you would like to buy a house together in the near future, you might need to both cut down on other individual expenses to for a certain length of time. If only one partner generates an income, it might be a good idea for the other partner to start earning a bit of money on the side, even if it’s not substantial. This will enable both partners to feel like they are actively working towards something. These candid conversations will go a long way in avoiding future conflict.

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Be practical by discussing your household budget and how to handle debt

Budgeting is tedious, but it helps keep both parties on track and on the same page. A household budget can make both partners feel safe and can give you a sense of control over financial matters, thus lessening the chance of conflict. Equally important are discussions around handling debt. Make concrete plans for how to handle debt, such as saving 10 % of your monthly income. The more you have these discussions with your partner, the easier they become. 

Don’t keep financial secrets

Lying and withholding the truth is a recipe for disaster in any area of a relationship. Be entirely honest and transparent about your debts, the money and accounts you have or do not have and your financial situation. Even if revealing the truth feels uncomfortable, trust is an essential foundation for relationships. 

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Approach financial issues as discussions rather than arguments

It is inevitable that couples will have to tackle financial issues at various stages in their partnership. The way that these issues are handled and discussed determines the outcome of these conversations. Treat your partner or spouse the way you would like to be treated. Be compassionate and loving. Rather than making accusations, listen carefully and be fair and forgiving when he/she has made a mistake.

Enlist outside help when you can’t resolve the issue/s

If it feels like there is no solution in sight and you have reached an impasse, consider enlisting the help of a third party to intervene. This might be a financial adviser or a couple’s therapist. Allowing someone objective to help you work through the financial issues you face can save a relationship. It can also reveal some of the underlying issues which can help you move forward with more understanding of and compassion for your partner. 

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