What it means to debt-proof your relationship
One of the hardest parts of communicating with your spouse about money is coming clean about your spending. It means being totally honest and upfront, remembering to reveal secret spending and financial infidelities, and not lying by omission. It means showing each other credit card and bank account statements, pay stubs and income tax information. If this causes you to sink into your seat, remember that keeping secrets is a lot more work than coming clean. You’ll feel a sense of relief by fessing up and having someone in your corner as you figure out what to do about the debts.
Couples also benefit when they manage money together. The communication skills you learn will help to reduce overall conflict in your relationship. You’ll face less stress and fewer money worries, and can make decisions together. You’ll also share in your successes, and find joy in having a partner to help you stay focused as you work on your joint vision for a future together.
Don’t let your future happen by default—plan for it
The future will happen whether we take charge and plan for it or simply sit back and go along for the ride. Your hopes and dreams aren’t likely to become reality if you don’t change them into goals with a plan for how to achieve them. This is where a spending plan, or budget, becomes your best friend. It should include some of each of your goals, show you both what you’re working towards, how much there is to spend, that all of your bills and debt payments are being taken care of, and what your future will look like.
Then, whenever a possible expense comes up, talk about it and decide if your plan allows for it right now, if you need to wait a bit and manage other priorities first, or if you need to shelve the potential expenditure for the time being. Keep up the weekly financial appointments with each other to ensure you’ve got a judgement-free zone to talk to your spouse about spending decisions. This will help avoid money arguments that end with no positive outcome for anyone.
When to call in a third party
Arguments about money are often not about the money at all—but you may not know what your argument is truly about. If you and your spouse are unable to have a civil conversation about money despite everyone’s best efforts, consider asking a counsellor or unbiased friend to mediate your conversations. Choose someone you both trust to have in the room with you when you discuss private financial matters. This third person can help you stay focused on what you want to discuss by asking scripted questions or reminding each of you to stick to your speaking points if things escalate.
To break your pattern of arguing about money, you need to do things differently than you’ve done in the past. The benefit of asking a professional counsellor rather than a friend to mediate your discussions is that the counsellor can help you get to the root of your communication breakdown. You may even be able to get some help paying for counselling services through your employer’s extended health benefits.
The bottom line on how to talk to your partner about money
Money is like a silent third partner in a relationship. Whether there’s plenty of it to live a comfortable lifestyle, not enough to make ends meet, or an amount somewhere in between, it’s crucial to be able to communicate effectively with your partner about your household finances. Rather than engaging in revenge spending—and your version of golf clubs or high fashion—work to understand how what’s important to your spouse impacts their spending decisions. While money won’t buy happiness, it will pay the mortgage, buy groceries and make good times possible.
Scott Hannah is President and CEO of the award-winning, non-profit Credit Counselling Society, which has helped more than 600,000 Canadians since its inception in 1996.