We’ve all heard statistics pinpointing money problems as one of the major reasons marriages end in divorce. In fact, you probably have some anecdotal evidence showing that financial stress and fights about money ruin relationships.
I don’t know about you, but I value my marriage more than any amount of money. I imagine that’s the case with most people who get married.
People don’t get married and plan to get divorced, but it happens. And money is often to blame.
So where does it break down? Why does money get in the way of so many marriages?
I am convinced it comes down to communication. Communication (or lack thereof) about money.
I’m blessed to have a fantastic relationship with my husband. We have always communicated really well. In fact, (and I feel a little weird admitting this), we have never fought about money. Ever. We actually don’t argue about anything. True story. And today I’m sharing our secrets. (And I give credit to my husband for them).
We are definitely the strange ones. Most couples have heated discussions (to say the least) from time to time regarding finances. I sincerely hope that these tips will help you improve (or start) the money conversation in your marriage.
Oh, and you’ll notice that I’m giving some script examples (what you could say) for many of these. My husband teases me about how I script things out all the time, but since this is all about communication, I’m letting myself do it anyway. 🙂 If you think they sound stilted or dorky, you can just ignore them (and laugh at them along with my sweet husband).
1- Talk about finances together.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the first way to improve your communication about money in marriage is to…. talk about money in marriage. Sometimes finances (especially financial problems) are the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it’s there, but no one wants to mention it, let alone discuss it.
After all, money matters to both of you. You both have wants and needs. You both spend money, and you might even both earn money. Money affects both of you. Even if one spouse takes charge of paying the bills and crunching the numbers, you still need to discuss finances together.
- “I know you usually take care of the finances, but I would really like to sit down together so we can get on the same page.”
- “Hey, would you like to sit down with me when I do the finances this month so we can set some goals together?”
2- Don’t be afraid to initiate the money conversation.
Every couple has a different dynamic and has roles assigned differently. If your spouse is the one taking care of the finances, he or she may think you aren’t interested in discussing money if you never bring it up.
Or, if you are the one who handles the money, your spouse may think you don’t care to share the responsibility or the information if you don’t bring it up. Of course problems can arise from making these assumptions in the first place, but the point is, don’t wait for your spouse to bring up the topic.
I should also mention here that it’s better to not wait for a financial problem to talk about finances. It’s much easier to patch the roof before the storm comes, than try to do so in a downpour. Bring up the topic of money before there is a major problem, if at all possible. You will naturally communicate more calmly and make more rational choices when there isn’t an impending disaster.
- “Could we sit down this weekend and look at our finances?”
- “I’ve been thinking about how we can [insert money goal here] and I was hoping we could discuss it over ice cream tonight.”
3- Be honest!
Really honest. I can’t stress this one enough! Whether you’re hiding purchases you feel guilty about, not admitting a debt that you have, or hiding money because you’re afraid your spouse will spend it, you are being dishonest.
When you’re being dishonest you will feel guilty. When you feel guilty you’ll be defensive. If you have to be defensive then you are divided. And you’ve probably heard about what happens when a house is divided.
Coming clean might be hard, but honesty is crucial to improving your financial communication. Start with yourself and what you need to share. Don’t expect your spouse to immediately follow your lead, just do your part to restoring honesty to your financial communication.
- “You know, I’ve decided I need to be more honest about my spending….”
- “I haven’t been completely candid about some of our family’s finances….”
4- Stop blaming– Work as a team!
Chances are, your spouse already knows his or her weaknesses and mistakes, just like we’re keenly aware of our own shortcomings. When a someone already feels guilty about their actions, the worst thing you can do is pile on the blame. When someone points the finger of blame, our natural reaction is to defend ourselves. And before you know it, you’re fighting.
Using “we” statements helps remove blame and promotes teamwork. Instead of saying, “You should….” say, “We should….” It’s a slight change but it makes a huge difference.
Think of how you’d react if your partner said, “You really need to stop buying so much junk food.” Compare that with, “We really need to be extra careful with our grocery budget while we [insert financial goal that both of you want more than either of you wants a particular food or convenience].”
With the first one, you feel defensive (or maybe you take the offensive… “Well, you need to stop eating out so much!” ). With the second you immediately feel like you are on the same team fighting against high grocery spending. You’re much more likely to come up with solutions when we use “we” instead of “you.”
- “We really need to do better about our miscellaneous spending…”
- “I bet if we’re careful, we could get our clothing budget down to…”
You heard it in kindergarten, but I’ll say it again. You’ve got one mouth and two ears for a reason! 🙂 Don’t assume that you know how your spouse feels or where he or she is coming from. Listen.
Listen. If your spouse isn’t saying anything, ask questions. Ask feeling questions to really understand the other person’s perspective. Then listen some more.
Let your spouse know that you’re listening. Try reflective listening. In other words, repeat back what you heard or understood to make sure that you got it right. Reflective listening not only shows that you are listening, but it gives your spouse the chance to make any corrections or amendments to your understanding.
- What do you feel like our primary goal should be?
- (after listening) “So what you’re saying is you really feel like we should look into other daycare options since this one is so expensive?”
6- Show respect with financial boundaries
We’ve all heard (or taken part in) examples of a husband splurging on an expensive hobby purchase and a wife, in anger, going out to match his splurge with one of her own.
This comes down to more than money. It comes down to respect. When you talk to your spouse about major purchases ahead of time, you’re showing that you respect them as a financial partner. You view your money and other assets as shared regardless of who earned the money. Mutual respect and some pre-approval standards can prevent problems like this.
Set a limit of how much either of you will spend without getting approval from the other spouse. For example, I would never just up and buy an expensive high-end blender without discussing the expense with my husband first. He would never go out and buy some fancy new electronic gadget without running it past me first.
Deciding with your spouse what kind of purchase decisions should be made together will help prevent future problems. Some couples set the limit at $20 and others set it at $2,000. Of course, setting up your budget with individual spending allowances is another way to address this issue.
7- Work toward goals together
There’s no better way to get you and your spouse on the same page financially than working together toward a common goal. Achieving goals together is like the graduate level of communication in marriage. To really work together, you’ll need to put into practice the other skills in this list.
Working toward a goal can bring out the best in both of you and give you a reason (in addition to being happy) to communicate effectively about your finances. Setting and achieving goals together is a powerful way to build your relationship. Think of it like a sports team working hard to make it to the finals. Unity and teamwork can make an ordinary team, or marriage, extraordinary.
And here are a few more quick tips, just for good measure:
- Use a non-accusatory, non-annoyed, non-sarcastic tone of voice. In short, be kind. Speak kindly. It goes a long way. I learned this one from my husband. He has never raised his voice at me for any reason. How can I get mad at someone who is so sincerely kind?
- If you’re going to do any assuming, assume the best. You spouse loves you! Assume that they have your best interest in mind. Even if they don’t, it will help you to be kinder. It is so much easier to speak kindly to someone when you assume the best about them.
- Be liberal with compliments. We all like to hear the things we’re doing well. Having someone notice your hard work and sacrifice encourages you to keep it up.
- And though it may not have a direct financial correlation, a discussion of communication in marriage isn’t complete without the advice to say “I love you” often. You can’t overdo it. No one ever tires of hearing a sincere “I love you!” Say it, then show it!
You can do this!
I hope you’re feeling motivated to try a little harder to improve the communication about money in your marriage. Your efforts really can yield powerful results and make a huge positive impact on your marriage. And your kids’ marriages. (You better believe those little people are listening and learning!)
Commit to not let money (or anything else) get in the way of your marriage. Decide what you can do today to improve the communication about money in your marriage. And don’t let it stop there. These communication tips apply far beyond finances!
How about you?
- What are your best tips for improving your money communication in your relationship?
Free when you subscribe!
Get frugal inspiration and financial motivation in your inbox every week, plus you'll also get the Guide to Getting a Month Ahead Financially for free!