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Money Talk in Relationships? – 7 Relationship Experts Share the Must-Know Tips Before Discussing Finances in a Relationship

by Sally LeBoy – MS, MFT, Lyndsey Fraser – MA, LMFT, Brett McDonald – M.S., LMHC, Amanda Patterson – LMHC, Natasha Silver Bell – Recovery Coach, Sherry Marshall – BSc, MAA, Brooke Campbell – M.A., RDT-BCT, LCAT

Money Talk in Relationships

“Money may not buy love, but fighting about it will bankrupt your relationship.”

~ Michelle Singletary

Michelle Singletary Money Quote
Sally LeBoy

Money is often a very anxiety-provoking subject. 

We attach a lot of meaning to money. It can reflect our sense of self-worth, our feelings of success or failure, and our sense of security. Money in our culture and probably most cultures equates with status and power.

In a relationship the higher earner is often afforded more entitlement to decision-making. 

Even though both partners may be working, the higher earner may feel entitled to more power. The lower earner may have a hard time challenging this thinking. That partner will feel less entitled in all aspects of the relationship, which is a recipe for resentment.

In the beginning of a relationship, there is the question of who will pay. 

Should it be evenly split even if one person makes more money? If you pay, do you always get to decide what you will do? 

I think it’s very important to notice how these questions are resolved. 

If you have different values about the meaning of money, it will only get worse if the relationship proceeds to commitment.

Because it’s uncomfortable to talk about money, the subject is often swept under the carpet. We are often raised to believe that talking about money is crass. This is a ridiculous notion, as money will impact every part of your life together. 

Knowing the value that your partner places on the earning, saving and spending of money is crucial to the decision as to whether or not you can make a life together.

At the ends of the money continuum, there are spenders and there are savers. 

Each has the ability to make life miserable for the other. Without making a value judgment, you have to know which category you and your partner belong to. Are you the ant or the grasshopper? 

Hopefully you are both somewhere in the middle and will be able to compromise on issues of finance. Clearly you need to have conversations about money in order to understand your relationship to it. 

If the relationship seems likely to progress, it’s time to talk. 

If you can enter the conversation with curiosity and without judgment you will probably get a lot of valuable information about each other. While people can mature in their handling of money, don’t expect that either of you will make big changes.

There are many ways to handle finances. 

Some people keep everything separate and just split the bills. Others opt for joint accounts. This only works if you are on the same page. 

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to agree on the management of money. 

More than any other relationship subject, money can cause the most misery. 

If you have issues with money, work them out before committing to a relationship. 

If your partner appears to have issues with money, take it as a red flag and bring it up. Most of us work very hard for our money. It should make our lives easier, not more complicated. This is a talk that is really worth having!

Sally LeBoy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

Lyndsey Fraser

Discussing finances can be one of the hardest conversations to have with a potential partner. 

The reason it is so difficult is that there are many different experiences, emotions, and thoughts regarding money. 

One way to discuss money with a potential partner is to ask what he or she learned about money growing up, while at the same time also asking yourself. Many different messages are formed regarding finances. 

Here are some examples of themes that come from family of origin:

  • There will never be enough money
  • financial issues always work themselves out
  • money is plentiful; when you want it is there.
  • if you work hard money will come.
  • it is important to save for a rainy day.
  • frugality is essential, you should only buy what you need not want you want.
  • a gentleman always pays
  • don’t ever be dependent on a man financially.

I have included a few examples above of what money could mean to a potential partner or yourself. 

It is essential to understand that there is no right way to look at finances. 

By having this conversation with a potential partner you can start to discuss how money is viewed and how it might affect your future relationship. 

The reason I suggest you focus on the family of origin themes is it doesn’t put the pressure on how you as couple will manage finances early in the relationship. 

Instead it starts the conversation around differences and how it may impact you as a couple. After you understand the differences you can then move into how to manage finances as the relationship becomes more serious.

The other question you may be asking; is when do you have this conversation? 

The best time to have this conversation is when the couple is moving towards exclusivity. 

As you want to make sure you have an idea of where your partner is coming from regarding their view on money. 

Before exclusivity you are getting to know each other and this can be an awkward conversation to have before both of you are committed to each other. 

By understand each other’s financial past you can then move to a more satisfying relationship. Too many couples do not discuss finances until it is too late. I encourage you to have the discussion with your partner.

Lyndsey Fraser, MA, LMFT – www.relationalconnections.com

Brett McDonald

As much as being in love is all about feelings, the pragmatics of a relationship are often about the bottom line–money. 

The relevance and role of finances in a relationship changes, and rightfully so, depending on how serious the relationship is. 

Every couple has a different comfort level when it comes to sharing finances. 

Some jump right in and share bills even before they live together, others maintain separate banking accounts decades into their marriage.

The first thing to clarify is the financial enmeshment v. commitment level of the relationship with your partner. 

Get the other person’s perspective on this issue and share your own, make a plan for how the finances will be divided and what each person is most comfortable with. Then there will be fewer points upon which misunderstandings and conflicts can arise. 

If you are not ready to commit or be exclusive with your partner, often it is best to keep finances as separate as possible, because this mixing of financials (or one person carrying an undue burden of expenses) can lead to hurts and resentments later when there is not a corresponding commitment in the relationship.

Once you have agreed on where you stand in your financial workings as a couple, be diligent to hold yourself and your partner to that standard. 

Financial conflicts are sadly one of the most incendiary issues for relationships, so the best way is to manage them carefully to prevent later regrets.

Brett McDonald, M.S., LMHC – www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/brett-rene-mcdonald

Amanda Patterson

The money talk needs to be a consistent conversation piece throughout the entirety of a relationship. 

Money is becoming less of a taboo to talk about. Men are even including on their online dating profiles the status of their credit scores. People, men and women alike, are finally beginning to see the importance of finances in a relationship. 

A chief complaint in relationships is money. 

So again, the recommendation is that money be an open topic that the two of you discuss at all times in your relationship.

In the Beginning

When you first meet someone, a financial question can be a part of the series of questions you use in order to get to know someone. What are your financial/career goals? How do you feel about credit cards? How is your credit score? 

If you are looking for a financially stable and savvy man, he will be open to and excited about these questions. 

Steve Harvey, in Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, taught us that men want to be providers to women. 

Men who are financially independent are more ready to be in a relationship than men who are not on their own two feet. 

And it is your responsibility and obligation to discuss finances with a potential suitor.

In the Middle

Once you are in a relationship you can begin to ask most specific questions. 

  • What is your relationship with money? 
  • What type of debt do you have? 
  • How do you want to handle finances when you are married? 

All of these questions are designed for you to figure out if you are on the same page as your significant other. This is a definite place in your relationship that you can find out if there are any red flags. 

  • Does he have debt? 
  • How does he spend? 
  • What are his saving habits? 
  • Does he spend a lot of money trying to woo you or impress other people?

In the Relationship

As an established couple, finances need to become an everyday topic you discuss. 

The more you know and understand about the person and their relationship to money, the better equipped you will be to make a decision as to whether or not you want to marry someone. 

  • Do you want to marry a spendthrift or a spender? 
  • Do you want to marry someone with a large amount of debt? 
  • Are the two of you on the same page about how to save for your future? 

When you can answer these questions and many more, you will be in a better position to move your relationship forward.

Amanda Patterson, LMHC – www.amandapattersonlmhc.com

Natasha Silver Bell

Conversations about money when you’re in a relationship can be tricky, so knowing when and how to have them is important.

So when, you ask, do you have this conversation? 

Wait until you’re exclusive and never before! 

Even in the early stages of an exclusive relationship, money is a delicate subject. 

Only when the relationship has reached one of the following stages can it be addressed with respect and kindness: 

  1. The stage of moving in together 
  2. The stage of becoming engaged 
  3. The stage of making a decision to be committed to each other no matter what (which tends to be the equivalent of marriage but without the legalities).

In the most general way, the money conversation is about collaborating with finances in order to relieve the burden for both you and your partner. 

Collaborating about finances is a team effort and should be done well into the relationship; a good indicator that you and your partner are ready for this step is when you have established a precedent of commitment and a practice of working well together.

The spirit of the conversation should not be “show me what you got”. 

Instead, the conversation should be based around balancing and helping one another. When merging finances, if one person in the relationship is less financially solvent than their partner, concessions and terms can be discussed and agreed upon together.

A partner who takes advantage of, or deviates from, joint agreements around financial support can result in a tricky situation, which is why communication is so important! 

In a healthy relationship where finances are being shared, it is an exchange made in a loving and generous spirit that should be received with gratitude.

That being said, keep in mind that it is still very important to the health of the relationship that both partners continue to be independent and financially self-supporting through their own means, as much as possible. 

This is not only important for the relationship, but is also vital for the self-esteem of the partner on the receiving end of financial support.

Over time, money has proven to be a key stressor and often deal breaker in relationships… but it doesn’t have to be! 

Being transparent about money in a relationship and having kind and open conversations, or check-ins, throughout the relationship is the best approach to sharing finances effectively.

Most importantly, because you love and care for your partner, remember that is important to acknowledge and respect their position while collaborating about finances.

Natasha Silver Bell, Recovery Coach – www.silverbellcoaching.com

Sherry Marshall

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Thoreau

Discussing finances is one of the areas that you may struggle with in your relationship as money is a ‘hot topic’ for many couples. 

We are often brought up in a family where it is not talked about. Even now, it can be a hidden topic and I work with women whose husbands have died and they know nothing about their financial situation. They tell me that he always took charge of the finances and banking.

So, it is vital to talk with your partner about money, but sometimes we need guidance on when and how? 

If you think that money is just like any energy that we share, it becomes easier to approach, rather than an ‘emotionally loaded’ subject. 

What does money actually mean to you? It can represent so many other things like love, power, security, control, independence etc. 

So look for the following dynamics and roles around money. 

  • Spender/saver; 
  • Planners/spontaneous; 
  • Worriers/Easygoing; 
  • Competitive/co-operative; 
  • Rigidity/flexibility; 
  • Connection/autonomy
  • Shared or separate decision making and power. 

You need to have a healthy relationship towards money or it can cause trouble between you.

I would recommend that you find out about your own attitude first, by asking yourself the following; 

  • What attitudes do you have towards money and where do those come from? 
  • Are you a risk taker or are you risk averse? 
  • Are you or your partner savers or spenders? 
  • Are you generous with money or do worry about it and tuck it away ‘for a rainy day?’ Maybe you just avoid the subject altogether. 
  • Did your family struggle ‘to make ends meet’ so you tend to budget and not fritter it away on ‘spur of the moment’ buys. Or did you rebel and decide you would just buy want you want and put it on the credit card? 
  • Do you or your partner have high debt and pay off a lot of interest but never reduce the capital? 
  • Are you both working or not and are one of you earning a lot more than the other? Maybe you have always had some money so you haven’t given it much thought.
  • Do both of you want to keep your money separate or pool your money in a joint account? Or just share the food and utility bills etc if you are living together? 
  • Have you ever raised the topic and how did your partner react? 
  • If you think you have different styles around money, do you know how to negotiate that?

The timing of these conversations often happen when your relationship is becoming more committed and you both may be thinking about living together or buying a house or starting a family. 

Pick a non-stressful time and share how your family dealt with money. Talk about why you feel the way you do and what it means to you. 

Example: If you had a father who gambled the family finances away or your family always fought over money, how that has impacted you? 

Talk about your fears and any particular aspects that concern you about your partner’s style of handling cash. Share your short and long term goals for the future and your ‘high and ‘low’ dreams.

Financial planning together is important and spotting your patterns can be fun rather than causing tension, especially if you can respect the other’s style. 

If you don’t polarize or criticize, you can work it through together.

Finally, don’t forget that there are things that money can’t buy that have equal or more value than money.

Sherry Marshall, BSc, MAA – www.naturaltherapypages.com.au/connect/sydneyprocesscounselling

Brooke Campbell

Money holds charged energy for people and it is essential to learn about how your partner views financial matters.

When both of you have reached a committed stage in the relationship it is important to hold an open dialogue with your partner about finances.

  • What is your partner’s relationship with money?
  • Does he or she save, hoard, invest, or spend their money?
  • What are your partner’s money habits?
  • Does your partner have debt, and if so how much?

Our views and behaviors surrounding money have a great deal to do with how we were raised and what we observed growing up.

For women, money is a tool for self-sufficiency and independence.

Be aware if your partner attempts to control your finances, limit your funds, or jeopardize your ability to work.

  • What is the vision your partner has for the future?
  • Is your vision for your future in alignment with your partner’s?

Money evokes emotional responses in people, so be mindful of how your partner reacts to you bringing this important topic up.

Once these money questions are answered you’ll get a sense if your partner shares similar views. If not, it might be time to assess if this relationship is valuable to you.

Love, respect, and transparency in relationships are all more valuable than gold.

Brooke Campbell, M.A., RDT-BCT, LCAT – www.creativekinections.com

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