I had lunch with a friend who likes to talk money with me. She has financial savvy, but her partner mismanages almost every cent he earns. During lunch she howled, “Why doesn’t he just burn his money in a pile right in front of me? It would be the same thing as what he does with his money!”
I sat there thinking, 1) Wow, what a perfect Sleeping With Money topic! and 2) Sorry, can’t relate whatsoever. Zac and I are very lucky that we never fight about money. Relationship experts back up our not-so-secret ingredient: communication.
No matter how much couples communicate (or fight), it’s the quality of the communication that will determine how they settle and prevent further disagreements about money. I poked around the internet for a couple of resources to help couples minimize friction that will arise from their differences. Here’s some stuff to do before the fight, and some simple rules of thumb to follow during the fight.
Before the Fight: Know What You’re Getting Into
Sure, you probably know lots about your partner. But About.com has a good point: “Psychologists say that many people will talk about anything, even sex, before they’ll talk about their finances. Why is it so difficult for us to talk about money? Perhaps because money symbolizes different things to different people: power, control, security, or love, for instance.”
Either you have good chemistry with your partner and the nuances of money are discussed organically, or they don’t see the light of day until there’s a fight or a good bottle of wine letting the thoughts flow right out.
Nina wrote a wonderful article on how to assess your money compatibility with your mate. My favorite bit was this money questionnaire that allows you to get a feel for how your partner’s views on money were developed, and their outlook now. To me, this is a great way to openly express one’s views about money without being interrupted by a well-meaning but nagging partner.
The more knowledge gained about your partner’s honest perception of money, the more room there is for compassion about mistakes they make, or the barriers they have in becoming wiser about money.
There’s also just learning to appreciate each other’s different approaches to building wealth if both partners are financially literate. People want to get rich in different ways. The more you understand how your partner wants to spend, save and invest money, the better you can work together as you merge your finances. There will be agreement on some matters, and others you’ll have to agree to disagree.
It’s most important to have the some of the same goals in mind. For Zac and I, more money has to come in than goes out. How we go about doing that on a day-to-day basis doesn’t matter as much as long as we’re both sticking to our commitment to save money for a house, and then for our personal goals. There’s room for our differences, but we have a shared focus on our direction. Surely you became a couple because you have interests in common. It’s not much of a stretch to believe you can come up with compatible financial goals as a couple, and to support each other as you achieve them.
It’s good to take a minute to ask, “Did my partner and I explicitly lay out a financial goal together? Do we know each other’s personal financial goals?” I’m never surprised when I discover that the couples that fight about money the most are the ones who answer “No” to these questions.
During the Fight: Respect Matters Most
Okay, so you’re pissed that your partner paid his/her credit card late again; or they just wasted money for the umpteenth time again. What were they thinking?! Right?
Billie Fitzpatrick explains three simple rules of thumb to resolve conflicts in a relationship. These rules also work great for money conflicts. Here’s my less polite (but more practical) paraphrase of what she’s trying to say.
1. Zip It While the Other Mouth is Moving
Billie says Rule #1 is to be a good listener. She explains, “If both of you can listen fully to each other then you will reinforce a sense that what you feel matters to the other. You can focus entirely on your partner’s point of view, knowing that he/she will listen to your side next.”
What she’s saying is right, but it’s not enough to say, “be a good listener.” Money becomes an emotionally charged topic; it’s almost more effective to focus on just not saying anything while your partner is explaining his or her self.
I’ve been around numerous hot-headed couples shouting back and forth at each other. Absolutely nothing is communicated, except harsh words that later have to be taken back. Bite your lip if that’s what it takes to keep quiet. An argument winds down so much faster when someone is not on the defensive. Half the time arguing is spent trying to get a point of view across to the other person on the attack.
Even if your partner made the dumbest money mistake imaginable, he/she will be more receptive to your feedback if you take the time to hear out their side of the story, no matter how crazy it may be.
2. There’s More Than One Right Answer
Billie’s Rule #2 suggests that you, “Accept there are least two points of view… By approaching a difference in opinion with this premise in mind, you automatically keep yourself open to resolving the conflict or finding a compromise.”
I know it sounds obvious, but I cannot begin to tell you how long it took me to finally get it. I wasted so much time trying to get previous partners to see my way when just the act of working on compromise was more effective, even if compromise was never achieved. Relationships that required me to compromise too much of what I believe signaled that the relationship wasn’t healthy. Relationships that made me grow the most taught me to release control and trust that my partner is making a good decision with me.
Try to understand why your partner thinks he/she is right about the decision they made with money, and you might be surprised to find out there was valid reasoning.
3. We Both Win
Finally, Billie’s Rule #3 says, “Respect and acknowledge each other’s feelings. If we allow ourselves to acknowledge our partner’s feelings, then we create a sense of mutuality: you have your feelings, I have mine.”
Those who commented on Billie’s advice didn’t like its basic information. But there’s really not much to settling a money conflict that a little respect won’t solve. For instance, let’s take this scenario.
Shane: We can’t afford this porcelain umbrella stand in the shape of Dalmatian. I wish you would take it back.
Gus: Well, I paid for it with my bonus money. I worked hard for it. I think I deserve something cute. I need to buy silly little things like this on occasion to justify my hard work.
Shane: You did work hard this month. But wouldn’t it be better to reward yourself by paying off your credit card balances this month?
Gus: The Dalmatian only cost 1/3 of my bonus. How about I put the rest of my bonus money to the credit cards? And I won’t charge anything else on my credit cards next month so that I’ll have a zero balance after next month.
Shane: Okay, but I think the Dalmatian is seriously hideous.
Gus: I’ll just keep it at my office then…
Shane: All right! Fine dear. I love you.
Gus: I love you too.
Wasn’t that easy? Shane and Gus kept quiet while the other was talking; there was more than one right answer for what to do with the bonus money; and they respected each other’s feelings.
That’s all there is to it. Now no more fighting about money!