Money Heart-to-Hearts: 3 Must-Have Partner Conversations

Couple talking while at home

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In the intricate dance of relationships, few topics are as vital as open and honest financial discussions. Money matters can be a source of both joy and strife, making it crucial for couples to navigate this terrain together. 

Whether you’re starting a new relationship, or focusing on finances in your existing partnership, there are three essential money conversations that can not only help transform your relationship, but foster understanding, trust, and shared goals. Here’s how to have these key discussions that can pave the way for better financial harmony and strengthen your partnership. 

The Importance of Open and Honest Financial Discussions in Relationships

Money is cited as a top cause of stress in relationships by 73% of couples who are living together. Luckily, by addressing financial matters openly, couples can build a foundation of trust and understanding. 

Open and honest communication about money is a cornerstone of healthy relationships for several compelling reasons:

  1. Builds Trust: Financial matters often involve sharing vulnerabilities, such as debt, spending habits, or income disparities. When partners openly communicate about these aspects, it builds a foundation of trust. Trust is fundamental in any relationship, and financial transparency fosters a sense of reliability and dependability. 
  2. Prevents Resentment: Money-related issues, when left unaddressed, can lead to resentment. Open communication allows couples to express their concerns, desires, and expectations, reducing the likelihood of one partner feeling neglected or burdened by financial decisions.
  3. Aligns Goals and Values: Discussing financial goals and values can help couples align their aspirations. This alignment is crucial for a harmonious partnership, as it ensures that both individuals are working towards a shared vision for their future. It can minimize potential conflicts that may arise when individual goals are not considered.
  4. Strengthens Problem-Solving Skills: Money conversations often require problem-solving skills. When couples navigate financial challenges together, it enhances their ability to work as a team. This skill extends beyond finances and can be applied to other aspects of the relationship, contributing to overall resilience in the face of adversity.

Enhancing financial communication not only resolves money-related conflicts but also deepens the emotional connection between partners, setting the stage for a healthier, more stable relationship. Building this foundation can allow you to hold space for three crucial money conversations that can even further transform your relationship:

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1. Financial Goals and Priorities

This first conversation sets the stage for discussing all future financial decisions and questions together. It can be helpful to understand each other’s goals and priorities before building any kind of roadmap or fixing broken financial habits. 

Initiate a conversation about your financial goals and priorities by creating a safe space. Acknowledge that, while you two might disagree, that doesn’t mean your feelings for each other change or that you’ll judge one another. Sometimes just stating this can help to break down barriers and encourage open communication where both partners feel comfortable sharing their financial aspirations and values. 

Take as long as you need to when discussing your goals and values. You might start small by thinking through your short-term goals, or you might want to talk through big picture lifestyle goals (like relocating, travel, starting a family, providing for kids or grandkids, etc.). As your discussion of small goals grows, you can begin to have a more concrete conversation about how these goals will actually look like in your money life.

Your goal for this conversation shouldn’t necessarily be getting on the same page. Instead, explore what financial aspirations you each have, and lay the groundwork for a collaborative approach to achieving dreams together – whatever they may be. 

With time, you’ll both wind up making compromises or building an entirely new, shared dream based on who you are as a couple, what you value, and where life takes you. The goals you have right now may shift and change with time. But starting out with honesty about what you want and what you prioritize in your financial life can set your relationship up for a clearer and mutually understood financial future.

2. Budgeting and Spending Habits

Approach budget discussions with empathy, understanding that everyone has unique spending habits and financial priorities. Again, this should be a non-judgemental space. Start with facts first, which are often less emotionally contentious than opinions on how to spend or save, to get the clearest picture:

  1. What’s your shared income?
  2. What are your shared expenses?
  3. Looking at a year of bank and credit card statements, where is your cash flow currently going?

Once a factual baseline has been established, you can gently explore what might need to change to achieve shared or individual goals. Avoid pointing fingers, and instead look at the situation as a team. Remember, a mentality of “You + Me v. The Problem” goes a long way in fostering goodwill. You’re not blaming one another or yourself for behaviors that might not be serving you. 

Create a plan together that balances your goals and priorities with daily spending values. For example, over-restricting may cause a partner who values experiences together or eating out with friends to feel resentful and, ultimately, fall off the bandwagon. Make sure both of you are on the same page when making joint decisions about how and when you’ll spend your money.

3. Debt and Financial Obligations

Tackle the often uncomfortable topic of debt by openly discussing current financial obligations and creating a plan for resolution. Debt may fall into this category as well. The goal here is to level the playing field. 

Remember the “You + Me v. The Problem” mentality? It goes a long way when discussing debt – especially if one individual in a relationship carries more debt than their partner. You’re working together to decide how to tackle debt, and how much of your shared resources you want to put toward paying it off. 

The same is true for other financial obligations. Whether you’re a new couple trying to sort through a household budget or a long-time relationship navigating the financial obligations of sending kids to college and caring for aging parents, having an open and honest conversation about what you’re comfortable with (and what some healthy boundaries might be) can go a long way. 

It’s also worth checking in on these conversations regularly. Balancing debt repayment and financial obligations with more exciting expenses (like travel, experiences, or a new home) tends to be a moving target. Make time to reassess regularly and collaborate together on how you want to manage this balance in your financial life, especially when your situation changes.

Face Common Challenges Head-On

Talking about money often veers into the uncomfortable. There’s no two ways about it – eventually you and your partner will disagree or clash when it comes to something financial in your relationship. Everyone comes from different financial backgrounds and has different learned behaviors. Some of these serve us while others hold us back on the journey toward our goals. A few common challenges are:

  • Different financial backgrounds
  • Opposing financial values (i.e. wanting to fund your children’s education vs. not)
  • Risk tolerance
  • Past financial traumas
  • A discrepancy between what each partner earns 
  • Expectations for how financial responsibility will be distributed among couples

These are just a few roadblocks you may encounter when trying to build your financial life together. The good news? Once you can identify the problem, you can get to the root of it together to help diffuse tension. 

One key is to implement communication strategies that work for both of you. This might look like avoiding blaming or finger pointing, waiting until you’re both in a good frame of mind to discuss problems, and choosing a neutral environment that’s conducive to problem solving (a coffee shop or walk in the park, for example). 

Honesty, Transparency, and Trust

It should go without saying that maintaining open, honest, and transparent communication is the foundation of trust in any relationship. Unfortunately, when it comes to money, many couples employ deceptive habits or will hide things from each other. Don’t fall into this trap! 

Trust is built through ongoing open communication and joint decision-making, creating a stronger foundation for your mutual financial future – and your relationship as a whole. Even if you’re uncomfortable with a specific financial problem you’re faced with, make a commitment to your partner to stay open and honest while working through it.

Set Boundaries and Agreements

Boundaries are healthy in every relationship – and even financial boundaries or agreements may be necessary for a couple to coexist effectively and share their money. In fact, well-thought-out boundaries can help to avoid mismanaged expectations, misunderstandings, and future conflicts. A few boundaries or agreements you might think through together are:

  • Who is responsible for joint financial obligations or bills
  • Whether or not each partner gets privacy for spending money (i.e. everyone has shared accounts vs. individual credit cards)
  • What your “number” is before needing to consult your partner about a purchase
  • Individual and joint spending limits in specific categories (eating out, date night, etc.)
  • Investment decisions
  • Industries or causes you don’t want to support
  • Savings goals

This is another conversation that may warrant periodic check-ins as things often evolve. For example, when you’re young and new in a relationship, spending more than $50 without clearing it with your partner may seem outrageous. However, as your salary and financial flexibility increases, that number may grow organically. 

Seek Professional Help

Financial counseling or couples therapy can be a fantastic resource for partners who want to face complex financial issues together but have persistent communication challenges. Whether you have recently received an inheritance, are newly blending your financial lives, or are faced with some big decisions involving your money and life – a licensed counselor or therapist can help you work through it together, providing you with tools to have productive conversations about money in the future. 

Often, couples seek this type of professional guidance when they’re looking for a collaborative approach to problem-solving. They want to work together, but may need a neutral third-party to guide the conversation, help them get to the root of their financial differences, and come up with out-of-the-box solutions that balance both partners’ points of view.

Partnering with a Financial Advisor

Working with an Abacus financial advisor can help you navigate these money heart-to-hearts, along with other financial conversations that arise over the course of your relationship. A financial advisor is someone who can act as a sounding board, offer advice, and even help you both see the other’s point of view when faced with a financial disagreement. 

Interested in learning more? Let’s get a call on the calendar today. We’d love to show you the power of creating a financial plan – together. 

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