The Buck Stops Here: More Thoughts About Money and Relationships
You have decided that the way you and your partner are handing finances is not working for you. Or perhaps you would like to take a step forward with respect to combining finances. Now what?
When Things Aren’t Working the Way They Should…
If the way you and your partner handle finances is not working because you are concerned about how s/he is spending money or for another reason that makes you want to take a step back, you might want to first, consider whether it is even possible to talk with your partner about his or her spending habits. If the answer to this question is Yes, it can be helpful to think about what you might want to say and to pick a time when other stressors are most likely to be absent. This is not a good conversation to have after a difficult day at work or while you are preparing dinner for your in-laws.
During the conversation, try to stay away from anger and frustration. When we become angry and frustrated, the parts of our brain that are logical and reasonable turn off. The conversation can quickly disintegrate into an argument where no one feels heard or understood. Instead, consider turning your concerns into a collaborative effort to find a solution. Rather than telling your partner how angry you are about how s/he spends money, you might want to ask how you might work together to agree about how the two of you spend money.
If it doesn’t seem possible to talk to your partner about money, you might want to take a deeper look at yourself and/or your relationship. Is there something about you that might be getting in the way? How was money handled in your family? How was conflict handled in your family? Do you have concerns about the relationship or your commitment to your partner that makes it difficult to talk about sensitive issues? Therapy is one way to create a space where difficult topics can be discussed. A competent therapist can help the two of you look at the problem and find ways to talk about it in without resorting to the same old arguments and patterns.
When Things Are Working Well…
On the other hand, you might be looking for ways to create more financial connection with your partner, hopefully because your relationship feels solid and is moving forward. Connecting financially has a number of potential pitfalls. It may create an unanticipated legal bond between the two of you, e.g., if you purchase a house together and both of your names are on the mortgage, failure to pay the mortgage can ruin the credit of both parties. Putting money in a joint bank account can create financial vulnerability if someone gets mad and withdraws the funds. Opening up a credit card together can also be risky if your partner doesn’t recognize the consequences of running up credit card balances. Many forms of financial connection will also create a situation that ties the parties together for a time period that may be greater than initially intended. For example, if you buy a house together, yes, you can sell it if things don’t work out with your partner, but it may take months before you receive your share and the financial pieces can be picked up. Destroyed credit can take years to repair.
Before moving forward with creating more financial connection, it might be wise to evaluate both the solidity of the relationship and how responsible your partner is with money. For that matter, it might be wise to evaluate your own level of responsibility with money. What do you already know about your partner’s relationship to money? What about your own relationship to money? How solid is your relationship with your partner? Is your relationship able to withstand any potential disagreements about money? Like having a child to save the marriage, creating shared financial responsibilities is not a good way to save your relationship. It can make your relationship stronger, but only if your relationship was already strong.
Making Talking About Money Fun! (Yes, it is possible…)
Talking about money with your partner does not have to be drudgery. Do it on a regular basis and try to make it fun. Pick up a pizza before going over the receipts. Reward yourselves with a movie or a walk. Congratulate each other on a job well done. Look at it as a way of spending time with your partner, growing together, and learning more about her or him. The process can be enlightening and the rewards are priceless.