Money fights and money stresses are the #1 cause of divorce in the US. Thats a biggee, but the good news from Marriage and Family Therapist Kelly Hoffman is that a little structure make “money discussions” a way to strengthen your relationship. There are 5 rules that will help you and your spouse avoid the kind of money talks that end with slamming doors.
1. Patience: Ok, I admit it. When I first got married I was horrible about sitting down to discuss money matters. It wasn’t that I was irresponsible with money, I just felt terribly threatened by the idea of money meetings. I jumped to the conclusion that my husband was trying to control me, and unfortunately I behaved pretty immaturely. Thankfully, my husband didn’t give up and now I am the one calling the money meetings. He still can’t believe the turn around. So the number one rule is to just be patient. There are a lot of emotions tied up around money and money beliefs, so keep being patient and expecting the best from your spouse.
2. Acknowledge your differences: There is a reason you and your spouse were attracted to each other, and part of that reason was probably that one of you was more free flowing, and the other person is more structured and consistent. There is not a “better” spouse type for money matters, so don’t get too up in the air if you are the structured one. The structured spouse tends to be a little too penny pinching, which is why they marry someone more free flowing. Its an attempt at balance. So instead of criticizing one another for being a tightwad or a spender, appreciate the benefit each approach brings, but remember your goals (which we will discuss in a minute). It will help keep things from getting too personal (and therefore too emotionally overcharged) if you just look at things from the perspective of “is this behavior helping us meet our goals? is this behavior hindering us from meeting our goals?”. Sometimes it will be a really good thing to spend a little extra, an other times you will need to economize. This will change all the time, so be flexible.
3. Regular meetings / updates: My husband is keeling over to see me saying this on television, (remember all those fiasco meetings where I was a brat) but having scheduled accountability meetings are crucial. First of all, you need an overall planning meeting, probably around the first of the year, where you discuss your overal goals and set your budget. Then you should at least check in once a month to go over the prior month’s budget, what worked and what didn’t. This isn’t a police action against one person, this is an meeting of partners to do their jobs better and see how their “company” is doing. Its just marital bookkeeping, and its nothing personal.
4. Trust: Regular meetings won’t mean squat if you can’t trust what the other person tells you or you can’t rely on them to follow through with the commitments you make together (notice the wording here, commitments you make together. No one should be imposing / enforcing their will. You should both be agreeing to actions, and that means you both are responsible for keeping your word.) This is non-negotiable, and there is a serious problem in your relationship, one you should see professional counseling for if you can’t trust your partner’s word.
5. Respect: Finally, as always, you have to respect one another’s priorities. My husband and I come at our budget very differently, but we have learned to listen and try to really understand what is important to the other person and why. This helps us “give” a little bit of ground to one another, and it also helps us feel committed to a joint goal. For example, I really want to build a climbing wall for our boys in our play room. My husband thought I was nuts at first, since the last thing he wanted to do was encourage our boys to climb. However, he didn’t just dismiss my idea as stupid. He listened to my reasons and afterward agreed that it would be a good idea. However, he had a couple of items he felt were higher priority at the moment. Since he listened and respected me, it was easier for me to listen to his ideas and concerns. Then we both agreed to a plan that made financial sense for our family. The end result is that my husband and I both feel heard and respected. We have agreed to do a fun thing for our family in a way that makes financial sense.
So there you have it, good financial relationships are build on patience, trust, understanding, structure, and respect. Stick to these five rules and your financial life as well as your love life will flourish.