It’s no surprise that couples spend a lot of time arguing about money—financial strife is one of the leading causes of disagreements and even divorces. As with many relationship issues, communication is the key to finding a solution you can both live with.
But talking about money can be tricky. How you choose to earn, spend, and save money is an emotional topic for almost everyone. We spoke to Rebecca Hubbard, director of outreach, prevention and education at Mental Health Association Oklahoma about some healthy communication habits to use when it’s time to talk money with your partner.
The first step? Finding calmness.
“First and foremost, only approach discussing your finances when you are calm,” Hubbard said. “People are most emotional about their money and their children. That’s because they represent protection and security for all of us. When we are calm, we are able to control our emotions in these conversations much easier—especially if there is a history of issues with finances.”
For all couples, Hubbard recommends basing conversations on facts that lead to an actionable plan.
“Remain very factual, and do not blame or shame your partner,” she said. “Instead, focus on creating goals and working to come up with an actionable, agreeable plan that you both can implement.”
Employ the Gottman Method
Hubbard, who also holds a doctorate in human sciences and family studies and teaches at several area universities, said she often references the Gottman Method when talking about communication with couples. The theory outlines ‘four horsemen’ of communication to avoid, when talking about finances with your partner:
- Criticism: Don’t criticize your partner’s prior spending decisions or differing spending habits.
- Defensiveness: Avoid becoming defensive about your own spending habits or goals or making your spouse defensive about the same,
- Contempt: Keep away from making it seem like your financial habits are better than your partners. You are both in this together, and your goals should be the same;
- Stonewalling: Don’t shut down communication or refuse to share information about your finances.
If you see these bad communication habits start to creep into your conversations, Hubbard recommends taking a break calm your emotions before continuing. But, she cautions, make sure you both return to the discussion within a few hours once emotions cool. Don’t wait days or drop the conversation altogether—this could lead to resentment on both sides.
“Many relationships will dip into these ‘horsemen’ occasionally,” Hubbard said. “But successful relationships work to avoid them and deal with them when they do see them. If you can approach finances and actively work to avoid these four areas, you’re going to see much more success – both in your finances and in your relationship.”
Financial communication in your 20s-30s
For younger couples, financial goals and spending habits looks a lot different than their parents.
“When you are just starting out, talk early about your finances, figure out your spending patterns and find a path for your financial goals,” she said. “Establish your habits together and set your goals together from the start. That way, you don’t have to undo problems later.”
Early in Hubbard’s marriage, she said she and her husband made an agreement to discuss every purchase that was more than $40. While the amount may have increased as they got older, the principle of discussing all financial decisions remained.
“My husband realized early on that I would get anxious about our finances, and he knew a way to reassure me was to make sure I knew what purchases were being made,” she said. “This reassurance on his part went a long way to me feeling like he cared about my feelings regarding our finances.”
Hubbard said learning your partner’s needs like this only comes with consistent communication and time.
“I definitely think there is a metamorphosis where you begin to go get to know and understand each other,” Hubbard said. “Setting the standards for how you deal with your finances early will set up the patterns you both follow throughout the duration of your relationship.”
Financial communication in your 40s and beyond
As you both mature, financial goals shift from things like saving for a home or paying down debt to saving for college and retirement. Successful long-term planning is much easier if couples have established a habit of open communication, Hubbard said.
“As you age, you still need to maintain that openness and transparency when dealing with your finances,” she said. “Regardless of the stage of life you are in, don’t jump to assumptions or accusations. And make sure everyone is aware of both the current state of your finances and the progress being made on shared financial goals.”
Overall, Hubbard said she recommends communicating about finances early, often and without criticism.
“Be reassuring and be open and honest in your finances,” she said. “We have to be fair, open, honest, equal and transparent—in our finances talks with our spouse, and also in every part of our relationship.”
This article is for educational purposes only. Tulsa FCU makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as legal, tax or financial advice.