How to Talk About Money with Your Partner

by Sean Bryant on November 8, 2012

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:

  1. Our attitudes about money are impacted by how we were raised.
  2. Money is, or can be, viewed as success and power – an enabler of social status.
  3. 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?”

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created OneSmartDollar.com in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in economics he worked as a construction superintendent before jumping into the world of finance. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. That being said he brings a good understanding of the finance field to the One Smart Dollar community. When not working Sean and he wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his daughter Colette and dog Charlie.
  • John S @ Frugal Rules

    Good post. I think a lot of it comes down to being open and honest. I think the willingness to comprimise is a big key as well, especially when both partners have such divergent ideas.

  • shepherda

    This is a really hot-button topic. A lot of couples really struggle with financial discussions because they both can come from opposite backgrounds. These rules are important to keep in mind.

  • http://twitter.com/RFIndependence Pauline

    It is a touchy subject. I have learned to pick my battles when I don’t agree on some spending for example, and focus on the longer term goals. Trying not to point fingers is hard but you are right when you say one can’t be emotional in such a conversation.

  • Jason @ WorkSaveLive

    Great article, Hannah! It’s very tough for many families to communicate on a myriad of topics but money is a very touchy subject. We all have so many goals in life and for men, money and providing for your family is a great source of price. When you try to challenge that pride then you’re in for a tense conversation. Thankfully, my wife and I have been very open since day 1 and we never have money fights or issues talking about it.

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