Talking about money is a hard thing to do. It’s one of the great taboos of our culture, among friends, co-workers and even family members. Money is also one of the top contenders for conflicts that consume relationships. It’s estimated that conflicts around financial matters are the driving force of a majority of divorces. Why is this the case? Why is it so difficult to talk about money?
Justin Lavner, a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology whose research focuses on family relationships, says that money is difficult to talk about for the following reasons:
- Our attitudes about money are impacted by how we were raised.
- Money is, or can be, viewed as success and power – an enabler of social status.
- Money is hard to talk about – and we don’t get a lot of training on how to do it.
You have two people in a relationship, with different attitudes about money, who are both uncomfortable talking about it: conflicts are bound to occur. Money is a complex and emotionally charged issue, as it touches all aspects of our lives. It forces couples to make choices everyday – choices like “can we really afford to eat out with our friends?” or “do we really need a new car right now?”
So, how do you talk productively about money with your partner?
Be willing to talk. Money brings up a lot of negative feelings for people – anxiety, fear, guilt, stress and embarrassment. So, open communication is very important when it comes to issues about money. Make the time and effort to talk with your partner about money in a non-confrontational environment. Don’t talk about it when you’re angry or emotional.
Understand your attitudes and values about money and reflect on where they come from. People are raised differently and this impacts how they think about money. For example, it may be important for your partner to allocate some of his spending to social activities, even when money is tight in other areas. Understand where that attitude comes from – perhaps it’s important for your partner to have social time because as a child he saw his parents work themselves to death, and he doesn’t want to do the same.
Learn to disagree and be willing to compromise. It’s not enough to just reflect on where your partner’s values about money come from. You should also admit that you and your partner are likely to have different values, and when financial conflicts occur, focus on working towards a compromise. Consider how both your needs can be met in a way that works with the reality of your situation. For example, if one partner values social time and the other partner values saving for emergencies and retirement, find the happy medium – go out twice a month (not every week) and put $1,000 each month into a savings account.
Consider a financial planner. It may be helpful to have a third party mediator in the room when you’re talking about money, as many people don’t get a lot of training on how to do it. Having an impartial expert involved may also keep both you and your partner from getting too emotional or angry. A financial planner can also help both partners in making key decisions in their lives – decisions on buying a house together, opening a joint bank account, having children or saving for retirement.
Hannah Na is a personal finance writer for NerdWallet.com, a site dedicated to promoting financial literacy and helping people answer real-life questions such as “What should I do as part of my retirement planning?” and “How do I apply for a credit card with a bad credit score?”