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Love, Money and Power

In honor of Valentine’s Day coming up, I’m focusing on talking about money in relationships for this month’s post. Clients often want to discuss this topic in sessions, and with good reason. Money is a proxy for power in a relationship, and the person who controls the money generally controls the power. As a result, one part of the couple often feels unheard or outright rejected, and conflicts arise. Let’s explore why that happens, and what couples can do about it.

Acknowledging that it’s difficult

Talking about money in relationships often feels virtually impossible if you’re not used to it. It’s an important thing to aim for, though. When you’re sharing a life that really means being on the same page about decisions. Of course, we want to approach decisions involving money in a collaborate way to prevent escalating to a fight. Too many couples ignore money issues rather than dealing with them because it seems easier in the moment. However, in the long run it’s much healthier to know how to discuss money in a constructive way.

Bringing up money in relationships

To get started, consider opening the dialogue by sharing some of your own habits and goals around money before grilling your partner. It’s also a good idea to provide a heads up that you’d like to talk about it at a specific future point, so your partner isn’t blindsided. Even managing one’s own money “stuff” can feel overwhelming, so just imagine being bombarded by someone else with all of their “stuff” without warning. Not cool.

Setting the stage for a conversation

Look for an opening when it might make sense to have a bigger financial discussion than just who’s picking up the tab for dinner. Set the stage by suggesting that you two sit down to talk about insert neutral (or ideally, fun) money-related activity here, on X date, at Y time. Once your partner agrees to a discussion, casually mention that you think it would be a good idea to talk about shared financial goals. I recommend starting with shared goals because it’s collaborative and fun to envision your future together, whereas your partner will most likely feel attacked and shut down if you start with what you think they need to change.

Communicating effectively with your partner

Once you’ve set a date a time to talk about your money with your partner, it’s time to actually prepare for the conversation. Keep in mind the goal of finishing the discussion with a shared vision of a happy future. Use words and phrases that reference yourself, such as “I’d really love…”, or “I’m noticing that…”. Similarly, avoid phrases that start with “You did this…” or “You shouldn’t have…”. Nothing shuts down a conversation more quickly than overt criticism or accusation.

Acknowledging and resolving conflict

We mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating that it’s difficult to start talking about money in relationships. Too often, couples will “quit” the conversation when things get heated, and either pretend they’ll deal with it later or just ignore it completely. Tons of advice online dictates that partners need separate bank accounts, and that’s fine if it really works for you. The sad fact, however, is in many cases this setup is just a way to avoid having a conversation about what’s important to you, and believing that your goals and preferences are worthy of the respect of your partner. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself:

Do you want to hide your weaknesses or do you want to heal them?

Committing to changing how we handle money in relationships

Talking about money in relationships is a weak point for a lot of us. We just weren’t taught how to do it. Now that we know it’s probably a chink in the armor of the relationship, it’s up to us to decide to hide it or to heal it. Healing conflict around money takes time, patience and commitment on both sides. There will be more than one conversation about money with your partner, I promise. There will also be more than one conflict. Here’s a not-so-secret fact: Alex and I totally argue about money still! And I’m a freaking money coach, people! Side note: I was just featured in this article discussing money and minimalism, and I’m quoted talking about how I like to spend our “buffer” money on fancy candles, which used to be a point of contention with Alex. Oh goodness. Live your truth, right? Just an example. Here’s another fact: the arguments don’t bother me, because I know we’ll work through it and both be better off when we’re on the other side. Sometimes one or both of you will need to take a time-out, and that’s fine. Just agree on when you’ll return to the discussion and don’t give up.

It’s not about not fighting, it’s about learning to fight fair.

Living joyfully with your partner

Once you learn to fight fair, you can tackle anything as a couple. It’s pretty incredible to join forces and take on the world with the person you love. It’s even more enjoyable if you’re taking on the world from a position of financial strength! When you can come together and get on the same page about what’s important to you now and what you want to share in the future, life gets more fun and interesting.

Money matters in platonic relationships too

By the way, we’re focusing on romantic relationships in this post, but obviously money comes up in platonic relationships too. A lot of dialogue about money in relationships (and conflict) often relates to close family and friend relationships. With that in mind, we’ll cover these dynamics in a future post (is there a special Friendship Day coming up? Like a platonic Valentine’s Day? I’ll look into it).

Now it’s your turn…

Have you tried to talk about money in relationships before? How did it go? What worked, and what didn’t go as planned? Let me know in the comments!