Answer by Jen Elmquist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Relationship Specialist:
Although money is just a tool, it is a tool that holds a lot of power. Money is one of the top cited reasons for conflict in a relationship and often attributed to couples breaking up. Getting a better grasp on what money means and how it operates between partners is paramount. In that light, here are four often misunderstood financial considerations for couples to keep in mind:
1. Communication about money can be difficult for couples. Money and sex are two of the most uncomfortable topics for couples to discuss openly. For a variety of reasons, partners may feel like it is taboo to talk about money. Some reasons include: It invades their privacy, they feel embarrassed, they feel out of control, they don't feel educated enough, or they don't think there is a reason to talk about it. However, just like talking about your sexual health and history is critical for each partner, so is talking about your financial health and history. Without these conversations assumptions are made, damaging secrets can be kept, and the freedom of being known and accepted is impossible to achieve.
2. Values drive our actions in life, including how we spend our money. Often what attracts us to a partner is similar values however most conflict over spending can be connected to value differences. For example, if one partner highly values security they may be prone to spending less whereas if the other partner highly values experience, they may spend more freely. This small difference in values will cause conflict for this couple. Without understanding that it is their differing values driving the conflict they are bound to blame one another. A simple conversation as to what values are important to each of them can help foster an aligned spending plan that honors each of their values.
3. Tolerance refers to the level of financial risk that each partner is comfortable taking with their money. Typically most people have a balance number in their checking and saving accounts that feels comfortable. For some that balance can be quite small where for others this figure may be quite significant. When partners have a large gap in this number, it can cause conflict. Tolerance can also include how much debt partners are willing to carry and how aggressive they want to be with their investments. Understanding where these comfort levels reside for each partner is critical and finding common ground that is realistic for the relationship is necessary.
4. Urgency addresses tasks like how soon payments need to be made, checks need to be deposited, and taxes need to be filed. Often partners have a different sense of timing, which can result in disagreement and discomfort. Usually, it is best for the person with a higher sense of urgency to organize payments and paperwork. However, I suggest that couples have a monthly money check in to make sure both partners are aware of what's going on and what needs to be accomplished.
Furthermore, in a relationship, sharing money requires a high level of trust between two people. Trust demands transparency and vulnerability, which opens us up to the possibility of being hurt. Betrayal from financial mismanagement can be traumatizing and have a similar effect on a relationship as infidelity. Getting on the same page early and often about financial matters can be life-saving for a relationship long-term.
After over a decade practicing and teaching couples therapy, Jen Elmquist developed the Relationship Reset project to get to couples before they needed to see her. Find out more and support your relationship at jenelmquist.com or read her book Relationship Reset.Suggest a correction