Despite best efforts, it can be difficult to talk about finances, and this can lead to friction in a relationship. In fact, 1/3 of those seeking marriage counseling site money as one of their top reasons for argument, and financial tensions are indeed a key indicator of marriage dissolution (Dew, 2008). Our firm works with many couples on navigating their finances in a comprehensive way, encompassing financial planning and honest discussions about what money goals attribute to the value of their marriage or progression of their relationship. I recently had the pleasure of being among experts interviewed by Maggie Puniewska for Real Simple magazine for an article in their May issue called “Money Secrets of Happy Couples” to share some of the advice that we provide to ease financial discussions. You can click here to read the article, however I thought we could go into greater depth on some of the more poignant points in this week’s blog.
Partners often argue about trying to find a division of financial responsibility that is fair, but how is a fair arrangement reached when income, debt, assets, experience, and interests can vary among partners? This is a question we get often and a good one. As stated in the interview, fair is a feeling, not a fact. It is quantifiable only by the emotions you assign to it. Has your arrangement been agreed upon with mutual respect? Does is set your family up for your long-term goals? Is it in accordance with your family values? If the answer to these questions is yes, then regardless of the division of contribution, and so long as each partner is comfortable with the arrangement, this is fair. Oftentimes comparison is the curse of happiness, and couples model their own financial strategies after those they have witnessed (such as their parents) or those they envy (such as a successful neighbor or friend). This is a dangerous practice as each financial situation and combination of personality types requires a unique strategy. Finding a suitable arrangement to organize family finances requires being open to multiple scenarios. Here are a few tips help readers start talking openly about finances and get closer to fair:
- Have genuine discussions beyond the numbers. Although there are many apps, programs, and even journals promising financial harmony, the key to operating with financial synchronization is staying true to the values of the couple. Couples base their sense of accomplishment and security on goal achievement, both short and long-term. If the values of the couple are in sync, it is likely that their goals are as well, and the first step to achieving any goal is to have the team rowing in the same direction. All too often couples begin financial planning or budgeting conversations with things like listing out debt, analyzing income, and categorizing expenses. This generic process, when unguided by a professional, can often lead to a blame-game or defeated feeling for one partner or the other. Starting the discussion instead with questions like “What intangible things are most important to our family? How does our family define success? How what emotions do you have after spending? How can we help each other make our financial goals a reality and what resources do we need?” can open up the deeper conversation that lead to the real progress and committed diligence required for financial harmony. Working with a certified financial therapist and/or certified financial planner can also be a great way to facilitate these conversations, since for many the topic of money is discomforting.
2. Face the money head on. Based on previous experiences with money and family financial patterns that have been passed down through generations, the topic of taking control of personal finances can uncomfortable. This could be due variables such as culture, upbringing, or an undue sense of inflated guilt and/or confidence to name a few. If this is the case, it is easier for an individual, or both partners, to brush even the basic household financial items under the rug. Is it because they think they are invincible against financial consequences? No, but they would rather the finances of the home be invisible. Create a judgement free zone of time to address the elephant in the room to not only force financial discussions, but also to stay on track. Set a time limit for the length of discussion anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes to make the talk less intimidating knowing that there will be a definitive end. Admitting that this dedicated time is necessary is a big step in the right direction.
3. Engage a professional. It is a myth that a financial therapist or financial planning professional should be engaged only when there is a point of contention. Furthermore, it should not ever be thought of as a relationship failure or weakness to seek professional help. These non-biased third parties simply help guide and organize thoughts, removing any noise in the communication channel allowing your messages between one another to be perceived as they were meant to be delivered. Having an unbiased third-party as sounding board or facilitator is a wonderful way to stay in financial harmony (venting to a co-worker, or asking what your sibling thinks at a family dinner, does not count). If you are not financially savvy, a financial therapist or financial planner can supply the verbiage and tools to get you and your partner to speak the same language regardless of your experience with financial discussions. They will provide an unbiased view, and will welcome all questions in a neutral environment. Perhaps the greatest impact of engaging a professional is that the appointments make the couple carve out the time to actually have these important discussions. Time as a resource is waning for all families, however making time to work on financial harmony is an important act of self-care as with this harmony brings comfort and clarity. These professionals are well worth the money and time spent to achieve this sense of relief.
With financial professionals across a wide range of credentials, we are happily and responsibly able to assist our client families by facilitating open discussions regarding the feelings that surround money, legacy planning, and overall wealth management. If you find your relationship in need of assistance with the types of conversations mentioned above, do not hesitate to reach out to our team.