Whether you’ve been together for years or are just starting to date, talking about money with your partner can be fraught at any stage of the relationship.
In fact, it’s often harder to bring up personal financial beliefs than it is topics like your sex life, politics, or even religion. During a pandemic, it’s even more challenging, yet deeply necessary. With so many households losing one or both incomes or simply feeling anxious about money, now is the time to foster open communication with your partner about money and how it makes you feel.
As a financial therapist, Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and Prudential Financial’s wellness advocate, is here to guide couples through this conversation all the time and is here to tell you that you are not alone and it gets better. With practice and an emotionally aware approach, you can navigate financial power dynamics, underlying assumptions, insecurities, and conflicting money styles and actually use money to bring you closer together than before.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Take an Emotional Litmus Test
Money has a dual nature as a symbol and a tool in our lives. Before moving into a conversation about how you and your partner use money practically (to pay the bills, shop, etc.), consider what significance you symbolically place on money in your lives. Do you mentally tie your savings to your sense of self-worth? Or perhaps certain spending behaviors help you craft your personal image? These core meanings we attach to our money often go unexamined but can explain much of our emotional response when our financial lives are disrupted.
With the pandemic in full swing, job security uncertain, and markets moving up and down, it is normal to have a tidal wave of feelings. Take the time to acknowledge each one and think about why you are responding that way. Ask yourself what that feeling is trying to tell you about your values. By sharing these money triggers and truths with your partner, you can connect on a deeper, more meaningful level instead of squabbling about numbers.
Remember There Is No “Right” or “Wrong”
The way we choose to handle money is based on temperament, past experiences, and family learnings. These factors create a unique money style for each of us, and chances are, yours is not the same as your partner’s. Suspending judgment is essential in exploring money as a couple. Like any highly personal topic, the temptation to protect your own decisions by labeling them as objectively “right” is strong, but it is impossible for either of you to share the vulnerable details of your financial actions and feelings if this attitude is part of the conversation.
Get to know each other’s money styles and stories by asking what money was like growing up for your partner. What was their first financial memory? How did they hear money talked about as a child? The more you know, the more you can emphasize and see not only the logic but the emotional reasoning behind choices that may have puzzled you before. When you both step back from trying to convert the other to your money style, you open the door to more creative solutions and compromises.
Make It a Date—and Lean on Each Other
There never seems to be a good time to talk about money, even though it’s constantly on our minds. Take the awkwardness out of beginning the discussion by making regular monthly or bi-weekly “money dates” with your significant other. Try ordering takeout from your favorite spot or opening a bottle of wine so you can both look forward to the conversation instead of dreading it. In these times of uncertainty, you may feel the need to increase the cadence of your money dates to once a week or more. Just remember, when more stable times return, don’t give them up! Choosing to talk about finances when times are good will provide you with a sense of normalcy when you need to talk about it in times of stress.
These regular dates also allow you to keep each other grounded, especially during a crisis. Money is directly wired into our sense of survival, so when things feel out of control in our financial lives, we are wired to be reactive in a way that is not necessarily proportional to the actual threat. Consistently talking through these feelings with your partner will provide a perspective other than your own to gauge how well your emotions are matching up to reality. Gently support your partner and turn toward each other to decide on a healthy response to money stress and not make rash decisions in a silo.
In conclusion, personal finance can be one of the most emotionally difficult topics to initiate in a relationship, but the more you practice it, the less scary it becomes. In times of upheaval, like this pandemic, we have a choice to let our anxiety drive us apart from our partners or have brave, productive, and affirming conversations. Times of difficulty are also opportunities to expand our empathy and find a deeper level of connection with our significant others. The important thing to remember is that this pandemic and subsequent financial uncertainty is neither you or your partner’s fault and will pass with time. In the meantime, Let’s come together on the things that matter, like supporting each other emotionally and remaining present.
About the Author: Amanda Clayman, a financial wellness advocate for Prudential Financial, is a widely recognized leader in the field of financial therapy. She helps her clients decode how thoughts, feelings, and associations shape their financial choices and identifies how those patterns serve and limit them in their lives. For over a decade Amanda has been helping people move beyond shame and frustration to find opportunities for personal growth embedded in the financial challenges they face.