New Ways to Talk Money
MONEY STRATEGIES FOR A HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIP
A Special Series from Dr. Terri Orbuch
This month we are excited to share advice for couples on a variety of money topics from trusted relationship expert Dr. Terri Orbuch. Check back each Thursday for the rest of June to read her expert posts.
When couples do not talk openly about money, it can become a sensitive subject and lead to lasting conflict in a relationship. As a result, they learn to avoid it. The problem is, that big ol’ elephant in the room keeps taking up more and more space when you don’t acknowledge it. You can diffuse the tension by bringing the topic of money out into the open. Many partners are willing to discuss anything, even sex, before they want to talk about their finances. But why is “money talk” such a hard conversation for couples to have? For one, money represents different things to people – power, control, self-esteem, and even love – and money discussions are rarely just about concrete dollars and cents. It is more a reveal of personal values that can be challenging to express. Below is advice I give to couples I speak with who have trouble engaging in comfortable dialogue with their partner about important money issues.
Schedule a Regular Talk
Sit down with your partner at least once every three months to have a “money chat.” This will keep things on track and uncover potential problems before they become too big. Instead of springing a conversation on your partner and taking him/her by surprise, I encourage couples to schedule a specific date and time on their calendars to talk about money. Set aside time on a weekend morning or afternoon to have a conversation; weeknights are tough when partners are tired (and may be cranky) after work. If having money talks in the household creates a stressful environment, start the conversation over the phone, which can diffuse some of the tension before you speak face-to-face. Or take advantage of a Valpak coupon to a local restaurant to ensure the discussion is cordial while also enjoying time with each other outside of the home.
Keep it Direct and Specific
When you sit down with your partner, start with simple and direct questions like: “What are we spending?” “Are there some areas where we’re wasting money and can cut back?” or “How can we save?” List and discuss your short-and long-term money goals as a starting point, and move on to more difficult topics such as savings plans and investing, once goals are set. Always remember that when you go into a talk with an agenda or an accusation (“You are spending too much money!”), it’s more likely to take on a toxic tone or devolve into an argument. The best way to start a money talk is with an “I” statement (“I’m worried about how much we’re spending each month”).
Studies show that when it comes to finances, partners often have different views. Compromise is essential, and it is important to discover the compromise style that works best for your relationship. This can mean ‘meeting in the middle’ or even using a talking stick to make decisions. Before a discussion, be sure to imagine yourself in your partner’s shoes so you can anticipate his/her concerns and be prepared to talk about them.
Feel free to share tips on “money chat” approaches that work best for you and your partner in the comment section!
Dr. Terri Orbuch (also known as The Love Doctor®) is a trusted relationship expert, author, professor and therapist. She is the director of a landmark study called “The Early Years of Marriage Project,” funded by the National Institutes of Health, and author of five books including “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great” (Random House).