Talking about money seems to be a topic so often avoided in our intimate relationships. Culturally we have often been taught more often than not that it is taboo to ask about money. We have learned to never ask someone how much rent they pay, or what they make at their job, or what they are saving for. Money is seen as private, so we don’t ask about it and we don’t talk about it. However, money cannot be avoided. We make money at our jobs, we need money to pay rent and bills, and we need money to do the things we want to do. In many ways, our lives revolve around money, making it even more imperative that we learn how to talk about it openly- especially with our partners.
In couples therapy, part of my job is to help couples learn how to be more comfortable when speaking on the topic of finances. Below are some important steps that can help in making the topic of money one that can be talked about more openly and freely.
- Identifying your “Money Operating System”
Financial Wealth Manager and ‘Profit Boss’ radio host Hilary Hendershott has spoken a lot about our ‘money operating system’ or “MOS”. These MOS are the beliefs that we have come to have surrounding money. Some common “MOS” include the belief that ‘there is never enough money’, ‘there is always enough money’, ‘money is bad’, ‘money gives me value’, ‘spend now, worry later’ etc. We have all grown up differently and been taught different things about money. This greatly impacts how we view and spend money as we get older, as well as how comfortable (or not comfortable) we may be when talking about money. It is important to begin to learn and have a deeper understanding of you own money operating system. Not uncommonly, we often pair up with someone who has different beliefs about money, spending, and saving than we do. Being able to first learn to identify and talk openly about our own MOS and then learn to listen to our partner’s experience with money is an important step for being able to then get on the same page about finances.
- Getting on the same page- asking the hard questions
This next step is important! Often couples get engaged and married and have never talked about what their financial future will look like together. Will we combine finances? Who will pay for what? If I make more, do I pay for more? Will we have a joint credit card? Joint savings? Is my debt now our debt? Do you get access to my trust? What if I want a prenup? These are extremely important questions to address when approaching marriage or combining finances. Often these questions around money can be charged, and often carry with them a lot of emotions. This is normal! Money is a complicated topic and can have many feelings attached, including shame, stress, anxiety and worry. Being able to acknowledge these and navigate them when talking about money is where therapy can be super helpful. Ask the important questions that need to be asked in order to get on the same page with your partner.
- Budgeting- setting goals and expectations
As individuals, we often have our own thoughts about spending, saving and budgeting. These are important topics to talk about with your partner, especially if you are going to be combining finances in any way. Is saving a priority? Do we want to buy a house or rent? Do we want to have kids? Do we want to take vacations? Sitting down and talking about what goals you have financially and what those goals will cost is important. This also involves being able to budget together and look at how much money is coming in and going out each month. Having mutual goals surrounding what you want life to look like together can be helpful when carving out where money will be going.
As mentioned- talking about money is hard and something we often have not learned to do well. Couples therapy is a wonderful place to start to explore and talk about this crucial and inevitable topic between partners. When you learn to more openly talk about and navigate the topic of money together, you will be setting yourself up for less stress and better communication in the future.