Effective Strategies for Financial Communication: A Guide to Financial Conversations for Couples

By Scott Little • January 17, 2024

Discussing finances with your romantic partner is important for the health of your relationship and your bank account, but many couples aren’t having those important conversations. A 2023 survey by Empower reveals that just 54% of individuals discuss their finances with their romantic partners. Continue reading to learn how to talk money with your partner without starting a fight and how open communication with your spouse or partner about finances can bring you closer than ever.

Setting The Stage for Productive Financial Communication

The foundation of effective financial communication is creating a comfortable, pressure-free environment where everyone feels safe opening up about their money. This means choosing a time and place where distractions are minimal, and both partners feel at ease. Given the statistic that only 54% of individuals discuss finances with their partners, it’s crucial to foster a setting that encourages open and honest dialogue.

Choosing the right time for financial conversations

It’s tempting to start a conversation about your finances when a triggering event occurs – you’re upset about something that happened, which makes you want to sit down and have the money talk right now. Maybe your husband just pulled up on a new motorcycle (surprise!) or you found out your long-time girlfriend you’re about to move in with has three bankruptcies. These are definitely situations that warrant a conversation, but these discussions shouldn’t be reactionary and shouldn’t come out of the blue. Instead, take some time to reflect on the situation and your feelings. Then, agree on a time to chat with your partner, ensuring that you both are mentally and emotionally prepared for the conversation ahead.

Creating a Non-judgmental and Open Atmosphere

Financial discussions often bring to light our vulnerabilities and insecurities. It’s vital to approach these sensitive financial conversations with empathy, understanding, and without judgment. Remember, the goal is to create a safe space where both partners can express their concerns, hopes, and goals regarding money.

Take care not to come into the conversation with accusations. Consider that you may not have the full picture and remind yourself that your partner didn’t make their financial choices to hurt you (it’s not all about you!). Instead, listen to your partner. Validate them. You’re here to understand them, not to change them.

As for location, plan to have your financial chat somewhere that feels safe and comfortable for you both and is free from distractions – like kids or outside events. That’s often at home, but some couples find it’s easier to have these conversations at the park, on a walk, or even over dinner during a money date. If you’re not sure where would be best, ask your partner for their thoughts.

Broach the subject of finances with your romantic partner

When it comes to finances, plenty of married couples struggle with communication. But if you’re just starting out, the topic can be even trickier. You may feel like your partner’s financial situation is none of your business unless you’re married or living together. Some might even worry about looking like a gold digger!

When people in relationships have secret financial issues – like past bankruptcies, child support payments, or debts – it can hurt their partner and breed mistrust. It’s better to bring those issues to the table early so you can face them together. If things come to light later that impact your ability to reach your goals, like a bankruptcy that gets in the way of a home purchase, it can breed resentment and ultimately damage or end your relationship.

So how do you bring up the money talk with someone you’re dating? Try something like, “Our relationship is important to me and as we continue to get more serious, I think it’s important for us to be open with each other about any financial issues because this is a relationship based on love and trust and we don’t want to hurt each other in any way.” You may even find that simply opening up about your own finances starts the money conversation naturally.

Building a Solid Foundation through Financial Goal Setting for Couples

According to the National Library of Medicine, 37% of divorced couples cite financial problems as a reason for divorce, and 58% blame “too much conflict and arguing.” But in my experience, when you talk about money and marriage, it’s less about finance and more about the marriage itself. When a couple fights about money, it’s often really about something else – the money is just what brings out the issues, which usually have something to do with trust, shared goals, and communication. With that in mind, setting shared financial goals can help to strengthen not just your finances, but your entire relationship.

Financial goal setting is more than just number-crunching; it’s about aligning your dreams and aspirations as a couple. It involves understanding what each partner values and desires, from short-term wants to long-term retirement plans. By setting goals together, you create a shared vision for your future, which can be incredibly unifying.

Not sure where to start with setting financial goals? Consider your shared values first:

  • If you value family, you may share a financial goal of taking an annual family vacation.
  • If you value financial security, you may set a savings goal and work toward reaching it together.
  • If you value cooking and eating gourmet meals, it may be time to invest in a kitchen upgrade.
  • If you value warm weather, perhaps you’re dreaming of purchasing a winter home for the two of you in Florida.

I find financial goal setting is one of the most important elements of financial communication because, often, couples who don’t share their values and work together to reach their goals don’t take each other’s goals seriously, which can create friction and frustration in the relationship.

Financial Conversations for Couples and How to Handle Differences

Differences in money management styles and financial priorities are common in relationships (it’s rare to find a couple who agrees 100% on how to manage their money) and those challenges don’t disappear as your income grows. Instead, you must work together to strike a balance that works for both partners, respecting individual preferences while working toward common goals. Regular discussions about financial goals, spending habits, and saving strategies are vital, whether those take place as part of daily life or are planned as part of designated check ins or money dates.

Understand your partner’s relationship with money

Everyone’s relationship with money is different – even between two people who come from the same financial background. For example, some people who grew up in households where money was tight may obsess about money and save every penny because they’re scared about running out while others spend every dollar as soon as it hits their pocket because they never got to spend money freely before. These differences in your relationship with money don’t have to be a deal breaker; you can navigate them by understanding your partner and yourself.

Questions to ask your partner:

  • What is your relationship with money?
  • Why do you think you feel the way you do about money?
  • Is money a source of anxiety or peace of mind?
  • Is money attached to good memories or bad?
  • What was life like growing up in terms of money, and what’s different now that you’re an adult?

Remember: your goal in asking these questions is to understand and open the door for better communication – not to “fix” your partner. Don’t jump in to offer corrections or solutions. Just listen!

Find common ground

No one wants to argue about money, but disagreement is good. Respectful disagreement often leads to compromises, helping you find a better way of doing things, together. I find the best way to navigate disagreement without arguing is to find the common ground where both parties can be comfortable first.

Start with the things you CAN agree on to create some positive momentum for the conversation ahead. You’ll find there are many areas where you agree, or where your values and goals are in alignment. From there, you can begin to explore some of the more sensitive subjects. Remember that these conversations, like your relationship, require trust, kindness, and respect.

Plan ahead

Life is full of big expenses, like weddings, vacations, and kids going off to college. Don’t wait until these events arrive to think about how you’ll manage the cost. Instead, start the discussion about how you’ll manage the expenses early so you can set expectations, avoid arguments, and most importantly, enjoy the moment when it arrives without worrying about money.

Common Challenges in Effective Financial Communication

The most common barrier to financial communication in relationships is simply not knowing where to start. A lot of us grew up not talking about money, so we’re not sure how to approach it in our relationships. By reading this article, you’re gaining the knowledge and confidence to start a financial conversation with your partner.

Many people avoid financial conversations with their partner out of fear. You may not want to bring up money topics because you don’t want to start an argument. Maybe you worry that you’ll be judged if you open up about your financial picture. You might just avoid thinking about money altogether because it makes you anxious. These are all valid concerns, but sometimes the only way to get past these fears is through. The more you practice talking about  money, the easier it will get.

How to Talk to Spouses and Partners About Money – Common Questions

What are financial red flags in a relationship?

Keeping financial secrets

Secretive behavior regarding finances, such as undisclosed accounts or unexplained expenses, can signal deeper trust issues. Someone may keep a separate account to shop for gifts or because of experiences in their past. Some couples might even choose to utilize separate accounts for everything. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but when the separation of finances or secret spending is accompanied by a lack of trust and transparency, you may be headed for trouble.

Making big financial decisions alone

You know those car commercials where one partner surprises the other with a new BMW or Lexus for Christmas? That’s a big red flag to me because a car (or boat, RV, hot tub, or timeshare) is a major purchase that will impact your finances for a long time and should be discussed and decided together.

When finances aren’t fair

There are plenty of healthy, committed couples out there that keep separate books, each contributing to the household expenses from their own income. However, when this arrangement means one person benefits from the family’s financial standing while the other does not, it can quickly breed conflict, resentment, and arguments. If your financial arrangement doesn’t feel fair to both people in the relationship, that’s a red flag.

How do you deal with a financially struggling partner?

When your partner is struggling with money, it’s important to focus on solutions and support rather than assigning blame. Set a time for a money talk and, in a judgement-free environment, get to the root of the problem. Sometimes the financial struggles are caused by a larger issue, like gambling or addiction, that requires expert intervention. No matter the situation, approach the issue with compassion and a team mindset. It’s not a “you” or “me” problem, but an “us” problem for you to tackle together.

How do I talk to my partner about money without fighting?

To avoid arguments, keep financial discussions calm and respectful. Validate each other’s feelings and seek compromise where possible.

Who can help?

A marriage counselor can help couples navigate their financial difficulties and address the bigger issues that may be causing them. As a financial advisor, I help couples with values alignment and goal setting as part of their financial planning process and take them through tough money conversations. Because of the fees associated with the services offered at Berkshire Money Management, this option provides the most value to couples who have more than $250,000 in investable assets.

What should I know about my partner’s finances before marriage?

If you’re ready for marriage, you should be ready to have open and honest conversations about your money. I would be sure to find out:

  • How much debt do they have?
  • Are there any bankruptcies, foreclosures, repossessions, or other judgements in their past that would get in the way of reaching our financial goals?
  • How do they feel about money, and what does it mean to them?

What are the benefits of good financial communication?

Regular, open communication about finances can strengthen trust, help you meet your shared financial goals, and lead to more effective joint decision-making.

Effective financial communication is a journey, not a destination. It requires ongoing effort, understanding, and patience. In a world where talking about money remains a taboo for many, breaking down these barriers within your relationship can lead to a more secure and harmonious future. Remember, the key is to start conversations early, approach them with kindness, and listen with the intent to understand, not to respond. By doing so, you can turn financial discussions from a source of stress into an opportunity for growth and deeper connection.

Looking for more help communicating about finances with your partner?

Join our licensed financial advisors and planners at Mazzeo’s in Pittsfield on Thursday, February 8, for our first ever Money Date event.

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