It's not always easy to have a financially healthy relationship with your partner. But it's not just possible — it's totally obtainable. If fighting about money or stuffing your feelings in relation to money are the norm in your relationship — or if that's the way you grew up — healthy relationship talks might seem totally foreign. But there are concrete steps to take in that direction. Some are small, such as discussing how best to split (or not split) bills, and others are on a larger scale, including talks with your partner about how to look at money in the grand scheme in your relationship. Regardless, it seems that when it comes to making sure that your relationship is healthy when it comes to money, where there's a will, there's a way.
Emily Bouchard, who is a certified money coach, and Jamie Traeger-Muney, a wealth psychologist, tell Bustle exactly how to deal with money in your relationship. Bouchard likens it to the discussion of safe sex that should happen before jumping into bed with anyone. "When dating, we now have the ability to openly have the 'safe sex' conversation about former relationships, the last time each of you were tested and the results, and how to best stay protected and safe as you enter into becoming sexual," she says. "It’s essential and a given if you want to have a healthy, robust sex life going forward." The way this conversation goes can say a lot about the future of a relationship. Similarly, people in a relationship should "tackle the last taboo subject that most couples are ill-equipped to handle effectively — the topic of money," Bouchard says.
"Money is the number one thing that couples fight about," says Bouchard. "We wanted to give you the approaches that have been shown to have the best results — in the midst of the conversations, and for your long-term relationship satisfaction." Here are eight steps toward healthy financial conditions with your partner.
1. Be Healthy About Money From The First Date
"Your first date can be a great opportunity to test the waters and see how the person you’re meeting responds to a simple conversation about money," Bouchard tells Bustle. The easiest method of doing so: Talk about the bill. By being "confident and happy to discuss money in the context of paying the bill," she says, "you provide them with an invitation to show up and meet you there."
Bouchard suggests a head-on approach here. "One recommendation is to bring up the 'first date' challenge of who pays for what, and how that sets up expectations right from the start," she says. "This is called a meta conversation, where you discuss what it’s like for you, and for them, when the bill comes." Though the discussion of money in this sort of context is often taboo, Bouchard discards that way of thinking. Instead, she says, discuss "the thoughts and emotions that come up" with your date, as well as "the typical ways you find yourself responding, and how you’d like to do it more intentionally."
She doesn't advocate doing this blindly, though: "There’s no point in having this conversation if you’ve already determined that the person in front of you is not a fit for other reasons." That said, I'd add that if you're on a first date with someone who is an obvious bad match, this might be the perfect time to practice such a conversation with a stranger. Why not? YOLO.
Above all, be honest, Bouchard says. "If you find yourself offering to pay when you really don’t want to, stop," she adds. "That will set up expectations that you will have a harder time shifting out of in the future." Be upfront, "proactive and ready to share openly" about your financial expectations, she says.
2. Figure Out How To Share Finances
"No matter what their financial situation, couples need to take time to determine their money philosophy, both individually . . . and as a couple," says Traeger-Muney. More often than not, one person in a relationship makes more than the other, and this can cause problems if not discussed. "When one person brings very different financial resources to the relationship," says Traeger-Muney, this is extra important, but even if both people earn about the same salary, this must be discussed. "The couple needs to take time to determine what approach will feel the most fair," Traeger-Muney says.
There's always a solution, says Bouchard, though sometimes it's unorthodox. "Couples come up with creative and easy ways to take care of their financial arrangements that work really well as long as there are conversations that happen, resulting in conscious choices that are consistent," she says.
For illustration, she adds:
"For example, one couple I worked with had an agreement that he would pay $1,000 per month towards the house upkeep and taxes, since he was living in her home that she inherited from her parents. He also took care of the utilities and helped with food as well. Things went along smoothly until the regular payments stopped. She became silently resentful and angry, dropping hints and making sideways complaints to him in ways that would be called passive aggressive, and had them seek out support. During their coaching sessions, it came out that she was taught from a very young age to never talk about money, and that she was enraged inside that he wasn’t supporting her as he had promised.
While they were both clear that he had given her a $5,000 chunk in January, she wasn’t tracking that he had also given her a $5,000 chunk in May. Because of their lack of communication, they went through three months of building resentments and confusion that could have been easily resolved if she’d had the ability to say to him, 'I thought you were going to pay $1,000 in June, and am wondering when you’ll be depositing it.' He would have been able to easily remind her about his chunk payment in May, and they would have been back on track, with a clear agreement that his next $1,000 would be paid on October 1st."
3. Never Drop The Ball On Communication
For healthy finances in your relationship, communicate about your desires and expectations, and if something doesn't go according to plan, talk about it. "The key here is to have very clear agreements that you both determine work for the two of you and are realistic, and then have equally clear 'by when' agreements that are honored consistently," Bouchard says. You could even try a practical solution to complement your talks: "Having a simple spreadsheet showing when payments are made and what they cover brings greater ease to the money conversation," she says. "As a bonus, this builds trust and greater intimacy."
4. Don't Let Resentments Build
The only way to avoid resentment is to address problems as soon as they arise. "The worst thing you can do for your relationship is withhold how you’re feeling, especially about money," says Bouchard. "The problem is, we don’t trust ourselves in how to have those conversations in a way that brings us closer, so we tend to avoid them." But that won't solve any problems. "When you keep ignoring the small red flags and brush them under the rug, they begin to pile up and create a huge mound between the two of you that you stumble over and avoid even more, making it that much more difficult to bring up." Whether you're peeved about something small, like yesterday's lunch check, or something large, like the rent, always bring it up with your partner ASAP.
5. Try The "ARG" Method For Less "Argh"
"The best recipe for a successful conversation about money is the ARG method," Bouchard says. "This prevents 'argh' in the future."
Part One: "Start with an 'Authentic Acknowledgment' about something you really love and appreciate about your partner," Bouchard suggests. "This could be as simple as, 'Hon, I so appreciate how you keep paying the credit cards on time — that really means a lot to me.'”
Part Two: "Then make a 'Realistic Request' that allows your partner to 'win' with you," Bouchard says. Here, it's super important to be very clear, and not beat around the bush. "Discuss not only what it is you want, but more importantly when you’d want it by, and how it will be for them," she says. And a little flexibility will go a long way. Stubbornness is not the way here. In negotiation, remember that "you are both part of designing the outcome together," she says.
This part doesn't have to happen all at once, says Bouchard. "Give space for them to get back to you," she says. "Get a time when they will, and be OK if they have another option that they’d like to offer instead." If you are asking for $1,000, she says, be open to your partner offering you half now and half next week, instead of only feeling satisfied if you get all of it immediately. And broach the subject carefully. Try something like, “I’d like to go over our budget for this month and plan ahead for the holidays sometime this week — what’s good for you?” she says.
Part Three: "End with 'Genuine Gratitude' for being able to have this conversation so openly and respectfully," says Bouchard. "This is a great time to be physically affectionate in some way, as this can be a vulnerable conversation, and you want to tap into that intimacy and safety you’re creating." In other words, this is the fun part. Money talk doesn't always have to be painful, Bouchard adds: Next "you can lead into another subject that is much more fun to talk about and experience — like sports, exercise, food or sex."
6. Don't Let Money Infiltrate Your Sex Life
"Our sex lives can often get off-kilter when our money lives are full of unresolved issues and hurt feelings and resentments under the surface," says Bouchard. "When someone feels disempowered or victimized in a relationship financially, the only place they start to feel like they have any say or power is in the bedroom." Avoid this at all costs. "If you find yourself turned off and not wanting to initiate sexually, take a look and see where your attempts to initiate about a financial matter may not have been welcomed or addressed to your satisfaction."
On the flip side, the sooner you feel comfortable discussing money with your partner, the better chance your sex life won't be tainted or stagnated by financial resentments, says Traeger-Muney. "The more empowered, included and respected you feel in your financial conversations with your beloved, the more you will feel a sense of intimacy and even adventure." This isn't some esoteric concept. If you're talking finances, there's a much better chance that "there is a great deal more trust between you, and a lot less baggage keeping the two of you from connecting," Traeger-Muney says. "The freedom to initiate and play sexually dramatically increases when you feel freedom to openly communicate about any worries, anxieties, hopes and dreams that you have, particularly as it relates to money.”
7. If Resentments Crop Up, Do Something
Even if you're talking a blue streak about money with your partner, you might still hit a few roadblocks. "The best ways to deal with unresolved and unexpressed hurt, anger and resentment about money behaviors and conversations that have not gone well is to get a healthy understanding of what drives those behaviors in the first place," says Bouchard. If you're feeling bummed about a talk that went badly, address these feelings as soon as you feel them, she says.
8. Understand The Eight Common "Money Types"
There are eight money types that relate to specific habits, Bouchard says. By understanding them, you'll have a better shot at being successful in understanding your partner's financial attributes, which are likely different from your own. They include "victim, fool, martyr, innocent, tyrant, creator/artist, warrior and magician," Bouchard says. (If you want more about these, try Deborah Price's The Heart Of Money or Bouchard's Estate Planning for the Blended Family.)
"Knowing the characteristics of these archetypes is essential to understanding what drives them and has them make the decisions they make with money — like avoiding opening bank statements or jumping into a get-rich-quick scheme — and what you can do to shift those behaviors to more successful outcomes," says Bouchard. Maybe shifting these difficult-to-handle behaviors will look like "slowing down and doing your due diligence before making an investment, or scheduling a regular time each month to go over your credit card bills and checking for errors," she says.
To sum it all up, Bouchard gives an example:
"One couple I worked with had 30 years of deep-seated resentment and resignation. His 'tyrant' type had called the shots for so long that her 'victim' turned into a long-suffering 'martyr' who stopped having sex with him, and stopped signing financial and estate planning paperwork they needed to take care of important goals they had for their finances. Once they understood the dynamic at play between these archetypes, they were able to shift to new, more empowering ones that allowed his 'warrior' to support her in taking more of an interest in their finances, and brought forth her 'creator/artist,' who created colorful charts to track their various trusts and goals in a way that made more sense to her.
When their old pattern of relating would crop up again, they had the ability to name it on the — often with good, loving humor — and invited each other to choose a different approach. The outcome was a much more loving way of relating, and they started to enjoy a regular weekly routine of shared bill-paying and checkbook balancing, followed by a glass of wine, some candles and music, and a fun evening of sexual play and fantasy, bringing in other archetypes they enjoyed expressing with each other in the bedroom."
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