It is no surprise that finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship.
According to a survey of people in a relationship*, 44% of respondents experiencing relationship stress aged 44 to 54 said money was the primary cause of friction.
How can you ensure that you do not become part of this statistic?
Here are 4 ways to get on the same financial page as your partner and greatly reduce the tension caused by financial challenges:
1. Have a regular money date
A money date can be held on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I recommend scheduling it in your agendas the same day and time every week, so it becomes part of your routine. During that date, you will discuss any lingering money issues, go over the financial decisions that need to be made, review how you spent your money in the past week and ensure that it is still aligned with the budget you set out for yourselves.
When you regularly discuss finances with your partner, it becomes a less tension-prone topic. But if you only discuss it when you have financial fires to extinguish, then you are doomed to argue and fight.
2. Discover and understand each other’s money history
We were all taught different money lessons during our childhood. Perhaps you were taught that saving money is very important, and your partner observed his/her parents spend every dime they had and often said out loud “money is made to be spent”. Imagine the arguments that arise when your partner and you have been taught conflicting money lessons?
Understanding each other’s history can shed a light on why your partner behaves the way he/she does with money. They are not doing it to push your buttons or to get you angry; it’s simply the way they were taught.
A great exercise I ask my clients to do is for each person to write their money biography and share it with their partner. Regardless of how many years you have been together, I can guarantee you that you will learn something new about your partner once they share in details their money memories and the emotions they experienced around money while growing up.
3. Communicate in a non-judgmental way
It’s easy to blame, judge and point fingers when you are facing financial challenges. But it’s surely more effective to learn how to use a non-judgemental, empathetic and calm way of communication.
Dr Marshall Rosenberg popularized the “Non-Violent Communication” (NVC) framework. It’s a 4-step communication, whereas each partner expresses their view of what they are observing, then they express their feelings, their needs and finally ask for a specific request. The other partner must empathetically listen and not interrupt during the process.
This is a powerful way of communicating, although it might feel unnatural the 1st time you try it. However, it’s the best way to get your message across, while remaining calm and focused.
4. Direct your money towards your individual AND shared values
Each person has their own set of important values that they live by. In order to minimize the conflict within a couple, it is crucial to have a spending plan that takes into account your shared values, but also your individual values.
For example, if you value spending quality time with your family, and your partner values being fit, it is important to ensure that you agree on an amount to spend for “family entertainment” and another amount to spend on “personal fitness”. When one person spends money on what they feel is important, the other might feel like they are not following the budget. Hence the importance to agree on those amounts beforehand. If learning about new cultures is important to both of you, then you can decide on the amount you will both use towards traveling.
Therefore an effective spending plan must take into account your values and ensures that you are directing your money towards what is most important to both of you.
If all else fails, you can always hire a money coach, who can serve as a neutral third-party when it comes to couples and money. A money coach can also guide you and support you to implement all the strategies mentioned above.
* survey released in Feb 2015 by SunTrust Bank