I want to cover a really important subject about how to talk to your partner about money. One of the hardest things about talking to your partner about money is the actual communication part of finances in order to start making some progress.
In order to have really good, positive communication with your partner about money, you need two people who are willing to allow themselves to open up to that conversation, but also some level of agreement in terms of what’s going to happen next. So I’m not going to sugar coat this topic at all. I can’t say that you won’t go through some tough, uncomfortable, perhaps awkward conversations with your partner about money. And in fact, that’s entirely normal. And the reason that’s entirely normal is because financial issues is one of the main causes of disagreements between couples.
4 Tips to Talk to Your Partner About Money
- Tip 1 – Understand your starting point
- Tip 2 – Get curious
- Tip 3 – Set specific roles
- Tip 4 – Take it outside
- BONUS Tip 5 – Personal goals
Tip 1 – Understand your starting point
Understand where you’re starting with your relationship to money and the best way to do this is to take two quizzes. The first one is the quiz that I’ve developed myself, and you can find that here.
I go through a series of very short, quick questions to help you to identify what your main relationship is with money; whether you’re a planner, whether you’re a giver, whether you’re perhaps a bit more impulsive around your relationship to money. The importance of doing that is it really establishes a good understanding as to what your natural relationship is with money. And that’s really important because often the disagreements we have about money are actually very unlikely to be about the money. It’s never about the money, it’s often to do with something else. That could be something in your relationship, to do with health, or to do with somebody else. It could be pressure of family members or the responsibilities of having to look after aged parents, for example, or it could be something to do with children and a clash of values. Often it’s never to do with money specifically, it’s to do with a clash of values or a clash in your relationship to money.
And in actual fact, if you want to understand more about your own specific relationship to money, I would really encourage that you go back to some of my previous episodes on how to talk to money with yourself before perhaps you start exploring how to talk to your partner about money, because the more we understand our own relationship with money, the easier that can help when it comes to those conversations with somebody else. I interviewed the wonderful Carl Richards, and we talked about harnessing your financial behavioural biases.
The second quiz is called The 5 Love Languages. I was introduced to this quiz a few years ago. I’ve also got the book and the online quiz is absolutely spectacular. You can do this quiz, whether you’re in a relationship or you’re managing money for yourself and you’re living by yourself. And there’s also a version that you can do of The 5 Love Languages for your children, which is a really interesting eye-opener.
What this quiz does is it gives you a greater understanding of other people and how we each have completely different ways that we like to be loved. What I love about The 5 Love Languages, which is written by Gary Chapman, if you wanted to look up the book, or you can go to 5lovelanguages.com to take the quiz, is there are essentially five different love languages that Gary talks about.
- Words of affirmation.
- Quality time.
- Receiving gifts.
- Acts of service.
- Physical touch.
What happens when you complete the quiz is you get a score in a ranking order, which one comes as your top priority. When myself and my husband did this, it took me a little bit of a persuasion to get him to do it but he eventually agreed to do it. And what was really interesting for me is that acts of service came up really high for me, whereas words of affirmation was very high for my husband, but actually quite low for me. So I now know that in order for my husband to feel loved, I just need to basically tell him that he’s amazing!
Using different words to affirm to him how good he is makes him feel loved. So I can simply just say to him “Thank you for the wonderful meal you cooked, that was amazing. You’re amazing.” We kind of have a bit of a joke about it actually, but words of affirmation is really important to him and actually the same for my eldest son. My eldest son is 9, and when he did the children’s version of this quiz he also scored really high on words of affirmation. I kind of already knew this about him anyway, because he is always seeking me to tell him how great he is.
He’s inadvertently telling me that he feels loved by being told how wonderful he is, how brave, how amazing he is when he does certain things like scoring goals. In comparison, acts of service for me: if somebody took the time to write me a letter that would mean so much to me and would mean way more to me than someone telling me I’m amazing. So it’s a really, really interesting quiz.
I would highly recommend that you do this and compare your results, because in reality having a successful money conversation with your partner is really about connection. It’s really about understanding and appreciation. Thinking about what you can learn from each other, because each of you will have something completely different to bring to that money conversation.
It might be perhaps that your partner is really great at putting together all of your numbers into a spreadsheet, or organising or planning things around money. And maybe you’re particularly good at researching, or you’re particularly great at finding great deals. So understanding the roles which you have around money in the household is really, really important. The reason that’s important is because you don’t want to pass any judgement about any given situation, because there’s no right or wrong. You’re just going to have a different perspective on the decision that you’re trying to make.
For example, if you’re looking to book an annual holiday, your perception of what would make a valuable holiday would perhaps be different to your partner. And therefore, if you don’t understand that starting point, then of course, that could cause all sorts of conflict during that conversation. They want to spend £5,000 on a holiday and that might be for you way too much money to be spending. You’d rather just go and camp up a tent somewhere, and that would be your value and where you find the fun and the joy in that holiday. But perhaps for your partner, they’re super stressed at work and they just want to go away and not have to worry about cooking or cleaning or anything like that whilst they’re on holiday. So maybe an all inclusive would be better for them.
So it’s understanding what’s important to you, having your own set of values and understanding that in these conversations, you’re actually bringing these two things together. So there is going to be some natural conflict and it is natural conflict. These things happen all of the time. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s just the natural, clash of values. Some of them will clash and some of them will sit beautifully together.
Tip 2 – Get curious
Bring some curiosity to your relationship with money. Completing those quizzes would be the first step to exploring those kinds of conversations. One of the best questions I like to recommend of anybody looking to have a more positive financial relationship is to simply ask your partner about what their earliest memory of money was or is. What that will do is to help you to identify what their money story is. What did they hear or not hear about money growing up? What beliefs exist in their mindset around money?
This will really help you to address those conflicts, to potentially then reduce the stress, and to negotiate some alternative choices and decisions when you need them.
Think about Christmas, for example. Let’s say you’ve got a husband and a wife, Mr. and Mrs. Crimp. Mr. Crimp grew up in a house or where money was really tight. Perhaps his father worked as a factory worker and he was always saying to his son, “You’ve got to work hard, son, work hard at school or you’ll never make anything of yourself.” Mrs. Crimp grew up in a relatively middle class family with lots of brothers and sisters, and her parents divorced at a young age. Her father was a successful business owner, and her mother worked part time. Her father used to shower her with gifts at Christmas time, which was his attempt to buy back some of the love perhaps by not being as present as he would like. Her mother was very, very loving, and at Christmas time the children would receive a barrage of gifts.
Now, Mr. Crimp’s belief around money could be that they need to be frugal because his dad used to tell him you’ve got to work hard for money. Therefore, there’s a scarcity of money that there’s never enough. You’ve just got to keep working, keep working, keep working. There’s never enough money. This not enough-ness: a self limiting belief.
So the message here was perhaps that by gifting excessively that’s overindulgent, whereas Mrs. Crimp was shown that it was okay to use gifts as a way of expressing love. So her money belief may be more about being overindulgent and that’s okay to be overindulgent to share and demonstrate that love. And if you think about the five love language profiles, then receiving gifts may be really high up in her love language.
So for Mr. Crimp to say, “No, no, we’re not spending that amount on the kids this Christmas, because we need to be frugal” then Mrs. Crimp is thinking but that’s how I express my love. Then you can see that it could be a real simple, clear clash of values. Neither is right and neither is wrong. It’s just a natural clash around money.
Understanding that clash would of course help them because it would give them an insight and some curiosity into what happened when they were children with money, and those two simple examples could really open up the doors to some better conversations.
Tip 3 – Set specific roles
Create a list of roles and responsibilities. So we often have an unconscious list of what a partner should be like in our head. We know we want him to be looking after us and maybe do the occasional cooking for us. We have this unconscious list of what our partners should be like, very much based upon what our fathers were like. Typically men, without being stereotypical, are the hunter gatherers so they like to provide solutions.
How many times have you had a conversation with your partner when you just want to be heard or listened to, but then they just come right out with the solution. They like to be focused on the outcome. They like to be needed. They like to provide, and they also liked you to be happy. Sometimes what happens is if we rely too much on our partners to be the sole provider of everything, our emotional support, our soul mate, our friend, parent to our child, all of these roles and responsibilities can put a lot of pressure on our partners.
Getting clear on who is taking responsibility for what could be really, really helpful, but remember they are going to like to be outcome based. So when you’re having that money conversation with them, think about what could they contribute to help you focus on the outcome?
Tip 4 – Take it outside
Have a financial friend outside of your relationship as well. People always make more progress when they have either accountability or they have more people supporting them in their journey, not just their partner. So maybe having some financial conversations with a friend or with a trusted financial adviser or a financial coach can really help the relationship.
I don’t do a lot of one-to-one work these days, but when I do work with one-to-one clients, one of the things I love doing the most is having a joint money conversation. I hold that space to allow the two parties in that conversation to have a really, really deep and meaningful conversation about money. It’s one of the things I absolutely love doing. But once the initial conversation has happened and we’ve built the financial plan and they’ve got everything in place, then actually continuing those positive money relationship conversations is really, really nice to be able to do.
So sometimes having a financial friend outside of your relationship is really important and can really help you to make some additional progress.
BONUS Tip 5 – Personal goals
The final tip I want to leave with you today is to have your own financial goals. I really believe that it’s important to have your own financial goals as well as some joint financial goals. It’s also why I support the view that it’s positive to have a joint account as well as individual accounts. So with my husband and I, for example, we have a joint bill account – all the bills grow out of that account. And then we each individually have our own sole bank accounts where we can then set up our money pots around what’s important to us individually.
That’s really important because you are individual people in a relationship. You’re not two people cut in half trying to blend together. You are two individual people trying to make the best of your situation and to look forward to your financial future and the things that you want to do together.
It is important to have a little bit of money that you can spend for yourself without having to make any joint decisions. You don’t need anybody’s permission, just money pots for yourself. So really think about having your own financial goals and having your own money pots, because then that gives you the freedom and flexibility to be able to make your own decisions as well as making joint financial decisions together.
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