How couples can deal with money issues

Jan 16, 2023

Couples often clash over money issues. Dealing with money is complex. It affects our social lives as well as our material lives. Here's how to approach it.

You cannot ignore your financial history....

When two people sit down to work on a budget or two people approach their financial lives as a couple, each of them is a whole collection of different beliefs and attitudes and experiences with money.

It’s most pronounced when you have people coming from different class backgrounds into a relationship. But even people who grew up in the same socioeconomic situation can have very different attitudes towards money, depending on the examples that they’ve seen and the situations that they’ve been through.

But, you can change your perspective.

Each one of us has a whole financial narrative and personal history that we’re walking around with, and we think that it’s just the truth with a capital T.

But your attitudes and beliefs about money are a perspective—they’re one little perspective in the whole universe of possible perspectives. It can help you have a little bit of humility when you’re talking to somebody else about their perspective.

It can be great, just as a conversation starter, to get talking about finances as a couple to just ask what their experiences were like growing up with money. You may learn a whole lot, and it might even explain some of the head-scratching behaviour that you may have already noticed with your partner.

For example, a saver may have a long-term mindset. When they think about their money, they’re thinking years, decades, maybe even generations. The emotional needs they may be meeting are security and safety. A spender, on the other hand, is often a much shorter-term thinker. They’re thinking in days, weeks, or months. They might be meeting needs for freedom and autonomy and enjoying life. So one goes with “Why can’t you live in the moment? Why can’t you enjoy your life?” And the other person is saying, “Why are you so irresponsible? Why can’t you plan for the future?”

It has to do with both the emotional needs that people are meeting.

The long-term mindset person might need to relax a little bit and learn how to enjoy their life a little bit more and learn that if they spend a little bit more, they’re probably still safe. The short-term mindset person needs to elongate their mental time horizon and to see that there are things that they should be planning for that they don’t know about yet, and so they should always have money in reserve. And so both can learn from the other. You can come to the middle where the long-term thinker can teach the short-term thinker how to stretch their mental time horizon, but the short-term thinker can also help the long-term thinker to tap into that sense of not everything is a doomsday scenario and we need to enjoy life while we have it.

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Because money evokes emotions...

Money represents our opportunities in life. Everything we want to do, all the things we want to do and be require money. So it’s really impossible to take the emotions out of our finances. Money is a tool. It is one of the most important resources to building the lives we want to build.

So if your partner is using money in a way that you don’t agree with, that represents a threat to the life you want to be living. And you’re going to have an emotional response to that.

It needs constant communication.

Couples need good communication. If you don’t have good communication in other areas of your life, having good communication about finances is not likely. With the case of some couples, finances become a gridlock issue, where you’re just not able to make progress. In that case, you might really need to bring in a third party to help you talk about it.

Otherwise, you use the same skills that you use in other areas of disagreement with someone that you love. When you recognize when emotions are starting to colour your own perspective, take a break and come back to it later.

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Be patient. Keep communicating.

Behavior change takes time, especially if you’re trying to communicate with another person. It will not happen overnight.

Always remember that you’re on the same team and that you are working toward similar goals. And with finances you have this opportunity to dream together, to build toward those dreams together, to come up with creative solutions together so that both of you can thrive. It all starts with good communication.

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