Two things fast-track couples to my couch most frequently: conflict about sex and money. In life, and in love, people tend to be far more comfortable talking about their bedroom behavior than their bank account. Money is emotional currency. A lot can quickly become tied and tangled in the topic, resulting in couples fighting and becoming financially tripped up.
Merging two money mindsets is not for the faint in heart. Financial dynamics in a relationship are a delicate dance in the best of circumstances. Some people scramble. Some go mute. One partner may have a proclivity to spend which can, in turn, cause an equal but opposite reaction of tightening of purse strings by the other party who attempts to compensate for the actions of a partner. This money push and pull can create tension or relational fracture. Far too often, couples “show” but don’t “tell” their thoughts and feelings. Money can become a very loud way to scream at the top of your lungs without ever opening your mouth.
When financial futures are uncertain, this can drive and amplify fear and panic. As the nation finds itself in the midst of a financial storm as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time now – more than ever – to stop showing and start telling. It is time to talk money with your other half. You are thinking about it, in some way shape or form: employment (or unemployment), income, investments, retirement, making a mortgage, paying your bills. You are likely having feelings about it. Lots of feelings. Loud ones.
You and your partner can work together to make your math work. It is time to rally and come around shared goals. Your partner (or his/her financial behavior or choices) is not the enemy. He or she is your teammate. Together, the two of you can tackle the topic to help you win the game.
Start with these four questions as a catalyst for effective couples’ money communication:
What do you fear? This is a time of uncertainty. Explore and validate with one another specific concerns, worries, and fears. You may be surprised by what is shared and what is different.
What do you want? Identify the targets and goals. Get granular. It will be easier to come up with an action plan if you have specifics to develop the best winning offensive and defensive strategies for the opposing team you are currently facing.
What do we have? Inventory what is coming in and what is leaving. Find where margin may exist and where it can be created. Discuss what will constitute financial bare bones and what a second scenario of money breathing room may look like in the months ahead.
What can we do together? This is not “your plan, my plan.” This is “our plan.” The former approach can lead to finger pointing and defensiveness. Healthy positive change is far more likely to occur when prescriptive “you should” or “you need” is left out of the conversation. Financial concerns, like all dynamics in a relationship, are co-created. Own your part, get creative, and go.
You and your partner are likely being forced to do a lot of things you may not have chosen for yourself right now. Conducting a financial fitness assessment may not have been at the top of your list of spring to-dos. Creating a makeshift at-home gym on short notice probably wasn’t either. In the end, both moves will help you and your partner strengthen muscles that may have atrophied. This is your chance to be you stronger as a couple than ever before – at the bank and pressing at the bench. Don’t be afraid to invest in a trainer — a financially informed therapist and/or a certified financial planner. These individuals can help facilitate hard money math conversations and help you develop the plan and skills you need to have the financial future you want.