How Couples Can Talk about Money without Conflict


Lindsey and her family haven’t gone on a vacation in 4 years. Her husband wants to save money by staying at home. They’re trying to save for the kids’ college fund. Lindsey feels like he is being overly cheap. The kids will be going away soon, and their trips away were always wonderful adventures that brought the family closer together. But she doesn’t want to complain.

Mario and his wife both work and depend on both of their salaries to make ends meet. But Mario’s wife wants to quit her job and start a new business. She has thought this through, done her research and has a strong business plan. But Mario is losing sleep at night worrying that the new business won’t bring in as much, or any money. He has always chosen steady reliable work to make sure he can provide for his family. But he wants to support his wife, so he does not share his deep concerns.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? How could these couples have an honest conversation instead of just not talking about the situation and building resentment?

Money is one of the toughest subjects to talk about, and it is also one of the top things that breaks couples apart.

Do you ever find yourself putting off a conversation with your spouse/partner about finances? It often feels easier to avoid the topic rather than having a difficult discussion. But little irritations can turn into big problems if you don’t address them.

Why is it so hard to talk about money? One reason is because there’s so much judgment involved. One of you feels like your behavior is being criticized. The other feels like he/she is never listened to. Someone is blamed for being too loose with the money. The other is blamed for being too tight or “cheap” when it comes to money. Someone is too controlling. The other isn’t paying any attention to money at all.

There’s an even bigger problem than fear of judgment. Misunderstandings and miscommunications cause most financial conflicts for couples. But here’s the good news. If you have a better understanding of why each of you makes the financial decisions you do, it can lead to better understanding and more open conversations.

Money Beliefs

What did you learn about money growing up? Are you focused more on living the life you want now or in the future? Do you keep track of every cent, or if there’s money in the account are you good?

Many couples have opposite money beliefs. Even if they have the same dreams and financial goals, they may still make money decisions in very different ways. Let’s look at three examples of money beliefs:

Saver vs. Spender

At one end of the scale you have the saver. This person loves saving every penny. They feel genuine pride and security when they put money away. They are very focused on sacrificing today in order to have financial security down the road. They take joy in saving money.

At the other end you have the spender. This person takes genuine pleasure in spending money for nice things or experiences for themselves and the people they love. They believe it is important to enjoy life now, not just put everything off for “someday.” They take joy in enjoying what money can buy.

Opportunity-Focused vs. Security-Focused

At one end of this scale, you have people who are always looking for opportunities. They are the risk-takers. If there is a possibility for a big pay-off, they’re in. They are highly motivated by possible gain and rewards.

At the other end is the person who is focused on financial security. They are risk-averse. They do not want to go into a situation where they could lose a lot of money. They are highly motivated by security and guarantees.

Controller vs. Freedom Seeker:

At one end of this scale, you have controllers. They monitor every cent. They want to know exactly how much money is coming in, how much is going out, and where it is being spent. They don’t want decisions being made without their input.

At the other end you have freedom seekers. These people would simply prefer not to have to deal with money at all. This could be because they are busy with so many other priorities, or simply believe there is more to life than worrying about money. They want freedom to make their own financial choices.

When it comes to money beliefs, there is no right or wrong, good or bad. There are advantages to all of these beliefs. When you understand not only your partner’s beliefs, but the reason for them, it can actually make conversations about money much easier.

Talking About Your Money Beliefs

Step 1: Look at the three money belief scales above. Sit down with your spouse/partner and rate where each of you falls on each of the three scales.

Step 2: Talk about why you relate more to one belief than the other. What past experiences have caused you to see the advantages of your belief or the disadvantages of the opposite belief?

Step 3: Now you can talk about specific money issues, fears and goals with a better understanding of each other.

For Lindsey and her husband, a shared goal could be giving their kids the best start in life possible. Her husband is using his “saver” preference to add money to the kids’ college fund. Lindsey is using her “spender” preference to make sure they enjoy the time they have with their kids and use shared adventures to build a close-knit family. They can discuss ways to accommodate his preference to save, and her preference to spend quality time together.

For Mario and his wife, if she can better explain her opportunity-focused belief, and address his security-focused belief, they might be able to find a compromise. She might keep her current job, and start her new company on the side until it is profitable.

If someone has control issues, and the other hates being controlled, perhaps you can decide upon putting a set amount every month in separate accounts that you can spend as you please. No unpleasant surprises for the controller and more freedom for the freedom seeker.

Talking about money isn’t easy, but if you have a better understanding of where each of you is coming from, you can remove some of the blame, judgment and resentment that so often arises around the subject of money.

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