Every couple should seek to build a partnership in which they can trust each other to make responsible financial decisions that respect the needs of both partners, as well as any children and other important loved ones in their lives. Fortunately, there are ways that couples can work toward this goal, whether they are just now taking their first serious steps in a relationship or have been married for decades.
Decide your values and priorities together
Your decisions about money reflect your values in life, including how you feel as a human, as a partner, and/or as a parent. Couples should explicitly talk through their values together and decide on the guiding principles that will drive all their other financial decisions. Though they do not need to come to a perfect agreement on their values in all areas, they should respect each other’s opinions, even where they differ, just as they respect their partner’s beliefs in all other areas.
Once the couple has come to a consensus on their most important values, they can use this “big picture” mindset as a benchmark against which they can assess how well a particular decision would match with their overarching financial values. This simple approach can help couples make financial decisions more quickly and can reduce their fear of making a decision they will later regret because it did not align with their goals. A couple that values charitable causes might plan their budget around regular tithing, for instance, while a nature-loving couple may prioritize having job paths that allow regular time off for long weekends.
Discuss money openly, not just in times of stress
Couples who have healthy conversations about finances do so because they do not associate every serious discussion with anger, resentment, or fear. If a couple only brings up money as a last resort, they ensure that every money conversation they have will be unpleasant, and they will dread it even more in the future.
Instead, discuss all your financial decisions openly and before any problems occur, and ensure that both partners are aware of all major aspects of their financial lives, even if one partner tends to more frequently handle daily financial decisions. Not discussing everything openly, even if just by oversight, can lead to resentment from the partner who feels excluded from the financial decision-making process.
Even more importantly, have positive conversations about money as often as possible. Enjoy deciding on future purchases together, planning out your future vacations, and discussing how to bring your financial decisions even more into alignment with your life goals.
Address your emotional responses to finance discussions
People’s expectations, fears, and hopes about money are not always rational, and you or your partner may find it difficult to talk about money without becoming emotional. This is completely normal, and the best approach is to simply accept that you will have an emotional reaction to some money conversations and ask your partner to give you time (and space, if necessary) when you are having difficult conversations to process what you are feeling. Once you are ready, the two of you can move onto a more rational discussion of finances with the assurance that each partner respects the other’s emotions.
Whenever possible, plan money conversations, particularly ones that may be stressful, during times of the day or week when the couple tends to be more relaxed. Trying to have a serious discussion when your time together is rushed or during a situation that is already emotionally fraught for another reason can be much less productive than conversations on the weekends or after the kids have gone to bed, when the couple has plenty of time to think through their responses and have a respectful discussion.
Talking about money can be stressful for any couple, but those who approach all their financial discussions openly, with an understanding of their values and goals and a deep respect for each other’s thoughts and feelings, will be able to maximize the productivity and positivity of these discussions and create an even stronger and more trusting relationship.