Money is one of those well-known “sensitive subjects” in relationships. Whether one person makes substantially more than the other or the couple’s spending habits are incompatible, discussing — and trying to get aligned on — personal finances can get heated quickly.
The good news is that there are usually steps you can take to limit financial stress, if both parties are willing to put in a little effort. Here are five actions you can take now to help end the fights about money.
Do you value saving for a home? Spending with abandon on outfits whenever you please? Do you enjoy squirreling away money for your future, or does your financial focus center around living “in the now”?
It’s not uncommon for couples to realize their spending habits might not match up. Clarity on your priorities will help both of you align your financial habits with how you want to live your lives both together and as individuals. This can include big-picture financial decisions—like saving to ensure an early retirement, donating regularly to charity, planning for children or family adventures. Establishing these priorities and discussing how and if they should change can make it easier to stick to budgets and new spending habits.
Personal finance is a multi-pronged subject. Not only are there spending habits to consider, there are also savings, debt, income and anticipated financial gains or losses that should be discussed when making financial decisions.
Honesty is important because it’s hard for couples to fully organize their collective finances if one person is in the dark.
For an open and honest conversation, begin by scheduling time for a meeting. Next, come prepared with all of your assets and debts written down so you can calculate your collective net worth. With all available information (and keeping in mind your income versus expenses) the two of you can more accurately evaluate your overall financial state and then decide together on steps to take to maintain stability or improve your situation.
Whether you sit down monthly to go through what was spent and why, or you regularly go over what bills need to be paid and what debts are outstanding together, touching base at an expected cadence will help you make decisions and re-frame goals. Doing so will help ensure that your decisions are well-informed, mutually beneficial, and realistic. It will also make financial activities, like settling bills or paying off debt, a shared effort.
An easy way to prevent your partner from feeling deceived or excluded from purchases is to discuss the desired expenditure before the credit card is actually swiped.
Whether it’s dinner, who does what around the house or finances, coupledom depends on communication. How couples communicate (think talking vs shouting) can matter just as much as what’s being discussed.
Because financial discussions have the potential to be touchy even though the goal is to develop a plan or strategy both partners feel good about, it could be helpful to keep some “best practices” in mind before diving in, including these:
Researchers at Brigham Young University found that couples reported a lower relationship quality when there’s an over-reliance of texting; for women that was especially true when texting was used to work out differences or make decisions. One possible reason is that it’s easy to take comments the wrong way – the tone of the conversation isn’t up for grabs.
Associate professor of social work at DePaul University Noam Ostrander recommended to Time magazine that, when an argument reaches a particularly heated point, couples call a “time out” to avoid spiraling into personal attacks. This forced break allows each party time to calm down to a place where problem-solving can actually happen.
The homepage of the Gottman Institute, which specializes in relationships, leads with this: “69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems” and goes on to say that the goal isn’t to solve seemingly immovable problems but to regularly discuss them and “actively cope,” to help stave off an impasse.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.