Talking to Your Partner About Money
Alex Morton 08/02/2023
3 Minutes

Discussing finances with a spouse or partner can be intimidating, causing many people to avoid it altogether. However, it doesn't have to be scary. In fact, positive and frequent communication about money is essential for a healthy relationship.


Talk Often

One great way to make talking about money less stressful is to have regular discussions with your partner. Don't wait for a financial crisis to come up! Some couples find it helpful to schedule regular money talks, like every Sunday afternoon, while others prefer a more casual approach. Whatever you decide, make sure that discussing finances is a frequent and ongoing topic in your relationship.

Many couples shy away from discussing money due to the stress and discomfort it brings. Allow me to provide you with some valuable tips on how to navigate these important conversations.


Discuss Goals and Values—Not Just Dollar Amounts


Money can hold different meanings for different individuals. Some may associate it with security, power, or status, while others may view it as a means to purchase things, travel, or start a business. It is crucial to have open conversations with your partner about your long-term goals and what money signifies to both of you. It is completely fine to seek assistance from a couples therapist or a financial professional if you require additional support during these discussions.

Even if you and your partner have similar long-term goals, it's natural to have different values when it comes to short-term spending. For example, one of you may be thrilled to find a pound of vanilla beans on sale for $300, while the other prefers to buy a $3.99 bottle of imitation extract. Similarly, one partner may see a pair of $175 shoes as a steal, while the other, who shops exclusively at thrift stores, may not agree. These differences in values are normal and can be worked through with open communication and understanding.

These issues go beyond just the dollar amount and are more about the values that each partner holds. It's important to understand what your partner values and make any necessary adjustments together to effectively manage your budget and finances.


The Four Horsemen

Discussing finances with your partner may not always be easy, but it doesn't have to create lasting relationship problems. By engaging in healthy and respectful communication, you can effectively work through any money issues that may arise.

Renowned family scientist and couples therapist, John Gottman, often discusses four communication pitfalls that couples should steer clear of. He affectionately refers to them as the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." These four pitfalls are:

  • Criticism: Criticizing is not simply expressing a complaint or a critique. Criticism involves attacking the character or essence of a partner. For instance, a complaint might be, "I'm concerned about your recent IKEA spending. I thought we agreed to consult each other for purchases over $200." On the other hand, criticism could take the form of, "You always overspend the entertainment budget. Why are you so selfish? You don't care about me or how hard I work." While one focuses on the issue at hand, the other attacks the partner's character. Criticism often leads to defensiveness.
  • Contempt: While criticism attacks your partner's character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them. It involves behaving disrespectfully, using sarcastic remarks, rolling our eyes, or mimicking body language. For example, saying, "You bought another video game? Seriously? You're such a child." Attacking your partner from a position of perceived superiority is detrimental to a relationship and will make discussing finances nearly impossible. Let's avoid this behavior and focus on maintaining a positive environment for discussing our finances.
  • Defensiveness: When faced with criticism, it's natural for us to become defensive. We may even try to shift the blame onto our partner and play the victim in order to avoid taking responsibility. We might say things like, "Well, you know how stressed I've been! I deserve something special. It's not my fault you're no fun anymore." However, this approach is counterproductive because it essentially blames our partner and prevents healthy conflict resolution. It's important to recognize this pattern and instead strive for open and constructive communication to effectively manage conflicts about finances.
  • Stonewalling: Stonewalling—often a response to feeling overwhelmed—is when one partner withdraws and stops engaging in the conversation. It's important to recognize that ignoring the issue won't solve it. When we find ourselves stonewalling, it can be difficult to think clearly and respond kindly. In such cases, it's helpful to request a break in the conversation and come back to it after 20 minutes—or even longer—to allow both partners to calm down.

Even in the healthiest relationships, it's not uncommon for the Four Horsemen to make an appearance. However, skilled communicators make a conscious effort to avoid these pitfalls as much as possible and work towards resolving them when they arise. If you find your money conversations slipping into these negative patterns, remember that you have the ability to turn things around and foster a positive environment for discussing finances.