I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but money is reported to be one of the top reasons for relationship discord.
And no, it’s not due to the lack of money.
It’s the lack of compatibility and communication about money. But it’s not hopeless. There are constructive ways to have these conversations while making sure you’re being heard and understood by your partner.
As a financial educator and financial coach for women, I’ve heard about pretty much every way the dreaded “money talk” can go (right or wrong). That phrase alone —money talk—can be a mood killer. No one really wants to talk about money with their romantic partner, but it’s actually super important. Really.
If you’re going to understand and be understood by your partner, you both need to know where you’re coming from regarding money. You need to know if there’s debt, avoidance, differing savings goals, or confusion around money. You need to know each other’s financial hang ups and dreams.
Whether it’s splitting the bill, spending less on activities, or saving for the future, making money demands inside a romantic partnership still feels taboo and awkward for many people. But talking about money is the only guaranteed way you’ll understand your partner’s—and your own—needs better! Mutual understanding is a double win.
Here are some of the key guidelines for having a non-combative, productive talk about money with your partner:
1. The more honest you are, the better.
For some of my coaching clients, there is a lot of emotion around money. They feel ashamed and judged whenever the topic comes up. It’s often not about the money itself, but about their relationship with money. We’re inundated with things like Black Friday sales and Amazon Prime Day, but then we’re also expected to be fiscally responsible and never have credit card debt. This leads to shame and embarrassment, which can also lead to avoiding your money issues altogether.
It’s really hard to be vulnerable. Money can come with so much baggage and shame, but it’s essential that you’re honest with your partner. This is presumably the person you love and are committed to being truthful with. Ask them to listen to your money story without judgment, and tell them about any hang ups or negative history you have with money. Tell them about your financial dreams. This will help them to understand you better and be more open to what you need financially.
The more clients are able to talk about their issues, the less isolated they feel. Being open with their partners has not only helped them within their relationships, but also helped them identify, examine, and deal with their own issues with spending, shopping, saving, and investing.
2. Use “I” statements.
I’m sure you know how easy it is to feel defensive during difficult conversations. If the conversation is about your partner’s money habits, you want to take extra care to avoid accusatory “you” statements; they’ll tune you out right off the bat. Awkward conversations tend to go better if you approach them in terms of what your own needs are, rather than what the other person is doing wrong. Simply put, use “I” statements.
Here’s an example: when my now-husband and I first started dating, we had very different approaches to money. He loved to go out to restaurants multiple times a week; I liked to cook at home and only go out for special occasions. At first, I didn't know how to have a
conversation with him about this, but I knew we had to talk about it. I didn’t want to spend less time with him, but I also didn’t want to obliterate my budget. Instead of telling him he was spending too much money and making it harder for me to reach my goals, I explained that I prioritize saving and prefer not to spend my money at restaurants.
It still took a while for us to see eye to eye on the issue and accept our differences (he will always love checking out new restaurants), but making the conversation about me and my needs made it easier for him to listen.
3. Frame the conversation around your specific goals.
This is another issue that comes up with a few of my coaching clients. When they talk to their partners about wanting to “spend less,” they often just say that they “can’t afford to go out” in general. This isn’t always received well, because it’s both subjective and unspecific (you’re never able to afford going out?).
Instead of just saying that you want to “spend less in order to save money,” be specific. Explain that there is a true end goal (or several!) in mind. Are you trying to save money so that you can fulfill your dreams of traveling abroad? Do you want to save so that you can buy a house some day? Do you want to avoid interest rates by paying down your credit card debt? Explain these things to your partner! When you talk about your goals (instead of your failures or insecurities), you’re living in an abundance mindset, rather than in a scarcity mindset. Not only is that better for you, but it will make your partner more receptive to what you’re saying.
I’ve suggested that my clients and students tell their partners about the things they want to achieve instead. It’s not truly about avoiding paying for an expensive meal; it’s about being free of credit card debt. It’s about going on that vacation of a lifetime. If you explain your financial choices in terms of your dreams, most partners tend to be more understanding and open up the line of communication much more.
4. Ask what your partner’s goals are.
One of the ways that my husband and I are compatible is that we want to travel often. Once it was clear that we had this in common, it was really easy for us to save towards it together. We have our own travel savings account that we contribute to each month. This strategy allows us to go on vacations together, rather than one of us not being able to afford it.
Your partner might not have concrete financial goals yet. But everyone should! Once you have defined your goals and written them down, it becomes much easier to create a plan and work towards reaching them. If you encourage your partner to set their own goals, then the two of you can support each other on your plans and accomplishments.
Just like it’s easier when you have a work-out buddy, it’s easier when you have a saving buddy. Creating and comparing goal lists will reveal how compatible your goals are and help you determine whether you can work towards your financial dreams as a team.
Again, I know—these are difficult and potentially awkward conversations to have, but they really are necessary. Money is a huge part of our lives, so it can’t be ignored (as much as we might want it to be). If you want to reach your financial goals, you need to be open with your partner about them. Do your relationship a favor: coach yourself through these simple strategies, and ask your partner to sit down for “the money talk.”
Maggie Germano is a feminist and financial coach for women. She helps women improve their relationship with money so they can take control of their financial future. She does this through one-on-one financial coaching, workshops, writing on her blog and Forbes column, and speaking engagements. She also founded Money Circle, which is a safe space for women to talk about money without feeling judged, and has recently become a podcast of the same name. Passionate about helping women earn more and closing the wage gap, Maggie was also trained as a salary negotiation facilitator by AAUW.
In 2018, Maggie received the Woman Empowerment Entrepreneur Award from the DC Women’s Business Center, and was a finalist for the Entrepreneurship for Good award from the Women’s Information Network. In 2019, Maggie received the Excellence in Finance award at the Perfect Entrepreneur Awards.