Even the happiest married couples sometimes fight over money. When two people share a life and a financial future, it’s only to be expected—especially when you each come into the relationship with different levels of financial literacy, risk tolerance, earning power, assumptions, and expectations. Part of the problem is that spending and saving are often deeply emotional, reflecting our values, goals, and unspoken assumptions.
In my experience working with hundreds of couples, I’ve shared the following tips to help people get on the same page as the person they love:
Share your money history
Set aside a time to discuss your personal money histories. What role did money play in your home growing up? What lessons were taught by your parents or caregivers, either explicitly or example? How did these influences and experiences shape your thinking and emotional triggers around money, including your tolerance for risk? Together, celebrate the places where money created freedom, choices, and opportunities, and show empathy and compassion for the times when money created pain, anxiety, and a lack of trust.
It is common during money history conversations for couples to learn something they never knew about their partner, which leads to a deeper understanding of and compassion for each other’s financial priorities. I find that couples who are arguing about money can get back in tune by learning where their partner’s motivations and fears around money reside.
Talk in terms of shared goals
Money is not an end goal, but a means to achieving things that are important to you both. Become fluent in discussing your vision for the future and how money will support your shared hopes and dreams. I’ve seen partners who were unengaged and disinterested in financial meetings become passionate about their financial future once we started talking about what the money was for. These conversations engage both parties in healthier discussions about financial priorities and creates a shared definition of what success looks like.
Create a list of shared values
How we spend, save, and share money are influenced by our core values. Core values are hard-wired—they define who you are and where you thrive, and many of our natural tendencies and talents spring from these values. Identifying your values greatly simplifies decision-making, because money moves towards what we value most. Start by creating a list of your top five values and ask your partner to do the same. Your two lists will likely not be the same, which is to be expected. Now, create a list of values that your relationship is aligned around: the values that are central to you as a couple. Write them down and post them somewhere you can see them in your home. If you’re more of a visual thinker, you can find a visual way to display your values—my wife and I painted a picture and hung it in our bedroom as a constant reminder of our priorities.
Take turns playing the role of Family CFO
Just as couples tend to have a “laundry person” or a “lawn-mowing person,” it’s common that one partner becomes the “money person” in the relationship. Sometimes, this happens because one partner doesn’t like managing the family finances; sometimes, it happens because one spouse takes pride in being “good with money” and happily takes over those tasks. But this set-up can leave the non-financial partner feeling vulnerable, powerless, or out of the loop.
So periodically swap financial management roles. From time to time, have the non-financial spouse handle bills, budgeting, investments, taxes, and communication financial professionals. Giving both partners a turn is good for communication and skill-building, and mitigates risk in case the more financially-savvy spouse has an accident or dies prematurely.
Find a financial advisor that works for both of you
A financial advisor can have a huge role to play in improving your financial conversations, but only if you both trust them and get along with them. A good advisor doesn’t let the money person take all the oxygen; he or she should communicate with both spouses whenever possible, whether it’s in person, over the phone, or over email. When one party has a conservative risk tolerance versus the partner, a good financial advisor will take the time to run different financial projections that give a range of options and build confidence. Many times, it’s combining the risk tolerance of both partners.
This was originally published on Barron’s.