Conversations about money do not have to be heated arguments. Here are a few suggestions for how to initiate and conduct a respectful conversation about household finances.
Schedule a Time to Talk
Most money conversations arise out of necessity. These conversations are usually triggered by an issue that needs to be resolved. Such an impromptu approach, however, often puts one partner on the defensive.
To avoid this, make the talk a scheduled event. Give your partner advanced notice that you would like to have a talk about the household finances. If possible, pair that talk with something fun to do as well, such as going out to dinner or to a movie. Such an approach can reduce the stress level of the talk and allow your partner to feel more relaxed in the discussion. By associating the talk with something fun, you eliminate the barrier of seriousness that comes with discussing household finances, creating a more relaxed and open atmosphere.
Further, scheduling ahead gives you time to prepare for the mental and emotional strains of the conversation. If necessary, practice your end of the conversation so that you can be sure you are emphasizing positivity and understanding. Know your potential triggers or particular pain points that may cause you to become too emotional. If you can practice, you can prepare a way to diffuse those emotions.
Make It a Discussion, Not a Lecture
What you don’t want to do is start the conversation by accusing your partner of doing anything wrong, and then lecturing your partner on how to correct behavior. He or she will immediately shut down and go on the defensive.
Instead, clearly present a layout of your financial situation without laying blame. Personal lifestyle author Jennifer Keitt suggests that you have a definitive reason for the conversation and think carefully through what your reason is. That way, you can approach your partner thoughtfully to engage the conversation about your household finances.
Your partner may not even be aware that there is an issue, or how serious the issue may be. Be clear when talking about what the financial issues are and what you hope to accomplish through the conversation. Stephanie Jones, founder of personal financial blog Six Figures Under, suggests using the word “we” instead of “you” to keep blame out of the conversation and enable you to communicate as a team. If you do all the talking and finger-pointing, you will not be able to come together as a team to tackle the issues.
Present the reality through the numbers without being judgmental. Money can make people feel very vulnerable, so be understanding, and listen to your partner during the discussion. It is important to understand his or her perspective and work together towards a solution.
Most importantly, keep your emotions under control. Your partner is not the enemy. If tempers flare and an argument ensues, you both lose because nothing gets accomplished and trust is eroded. To keep control of the conversation, do not lose your temper. If necessary, ask for a break in the conversation until emotions ebb and cooler heads prevail.
Be Open and Honest
Honesty is the crucial element to a conversation about money and household finances. If you aren’t honest with yourself and your partner, you will not be able to resolve the issues together. Start by being open and admitting your own mistakes. Owning your own faults will help build trust with your partner, who will then feel better about admitting his or her own mistakes and working toward a solution.
To establish an honest environment, review all financial statements together. Even if, as a couple, you have maintained separate bank accounts, by reviewing them together you can eliminate secrets. Everything gets laid open in black and white.
Open the door to discussing money histories because a person’s background and history with money often shapes spending habits. One great way to better understand a person’s financial mindset is to ask about how their parents handled money. People often mimic the behavior of their parents and bring with them into adulthood the same philosophies shared by their parents. This open discussion can help you both to better understand each other’s way of thinking.
The important thing is to keep communicating openly, honestly and equally.
Focus On Financial Goals, Not Expenses
Yes, the conversation is happening because there is a direct issue with the monthly budget of your household finances. But to keep the conversation as emotionally neutral as possible, focus on the financial goals you would like to reach as a couple as opposed to specific bills, debt or other issues. Monthly expenses will naturally roll into the conversation when discussing goals.
Frame the talk around specific goals such as lowering credit card expenses or building a savings account — goals that are directly affected by spending. Be open about what the goal of the conversation is without relating your partner’s spending as the obstacle to that goal. By approaching the talk with larger goals in mind, you steer the conversation away from specific stress points, which will help reduce the tension.