How to Talk to Your Partner About Money Without Fighting

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How to Talk to Your Partner About Money Without Fighting

In the intricate dance of a relationship, the topic of money often becomes a stumbling block for many couples. Financial discussions can escalate into full-blown arguments, leaving both of you feeling hurt, disrespected, and misunderstood. So, how can you talk to your partner about money without fighting? As a couples counselor who practices financial counseling for couples, I’ve got some advice. 

First, you need to realize that money fights aren’t really about the numbers; they’re deeply rooted in our emotions, values, and the financial lessons we’ve inherited from our families of origin. Understanding this can transform arguments about money into constructive conversations, fostering a healthier relationship, both emotionally and financially.

The Emotional Complexity of Money

Money is not merely a tool for buying things. It’s an emotionally complex symbol that means different things to all of us. 

That’s why so many couples fight about finances. Money is woven into our identity. It reflects our values and core beliefs. Conversations about money bring out feelings of fear, insecurity, power, and vulnerability. Often, couples find themselves at odds not because of financial irresponsibility, but because their ingrained beliefs and emotional triggers around money differ vastly and they don’t even know how to crack into those differences. 

They’re stuck at the level of discussing dollars and cents, when they need to dig much deeper. 

Unveiling the True Conflict Behind ‘Money Arguments’

The heart of financial disagreements often lies not in the amount spent or saved, but in what these actions signify to each partner on a deeper level. Questions of love, respect, trust, and mutual care are at the core of these conflicts. Understanding that your partner’s spending or saving habits are expressions of their values and fears can pave the way for empathy and meaningful conversations, rather than another nasty argument about money. 

Here are my tips for having truly productive conversations about money, without fighting: 

  1. Acknowledge Different Perspectives

Each person has a unique relationship with money, and no one is right or wrong. The number in the bank account that makes you feel safe and secure may seem excessive to your partner. Likewise, your spending habits may feel natural to you, but they may cause your partner to enter an anxiety spiral. 

Differing views on spending, saving, and investing are not about right or wrong, they’re reflections of your differing background and values. Approaching financial discussions with an open mind and a willingness to understand your partner’s perspective can help you understand each other more deeply and have more empathy for each other, which are two essential ingredients for productive communication. 

  1. Validate Before You Budget

Before you bust out your spreadsheets, you have to validate each other’s feelings and perspectives regarding money. Explore how your partner’s relationship with money was shaped by their family background and share your own personal experiences and feelings around money to build a foundation of understanding and respect that you can move forward from. Recognizing and validating your differences is a critical step that you have to take before diving into financial planning together.

  1. Crafting a Shared Financial Vision

After you explore your financial past, it’s time to discuss your future. What are the values you want to pass down to your children about money? How do you want finances to operate in your relationship? What are your goals for your shared life and how does money factor into each of those goals? 

Conversations like these help you create a positive shared vision of what money means within your relationship and the family culture you wish to build. It gives you something to work toward together, setting the stage for a collaborative approach to managing money together. 

  1. Practical Steps To Financial Harmony

With a solid understanding of each other’s emotional ties to money and a shared vision for the future, now you can begin to address the practical aspects of how you’re managing money together. Here are some questions to guide you through this conversation: 

  • How can we share our resources in equitable ways that feel fair for us both? 
  • How are we making space for both of our perspectives? 
  • How are we ensuring transparency, trust, and financial fidelity in our relationship? 
  • How are our values and priorities reflected in our budget? 
  • What’s our process for making financial decisions together?

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The Role of Financial Therapy for Couples 

While articles and podcast episodes can provide valuable insights, they’re not going to transform your approach to managing money as a couple, especially if fighting about money is a deeply ingrained pattern in your relationship. 

And that is okay! There are experts who specialize in exactly this — helping couples talk about money, work through financial differences, create a shared vision for their financial future, and create agreements and stick to them. 

Financial therapy for couples is a specialized form of couples counseling that focuses on improving communication about finances and developing strategies to manage money together effectively. It’s an invaluable tool for couples looking to strengthen their relationships, while also building a strong financial future. 

If you’d like support from a couples counselor on my team who practices financial counseling for couples, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 
P.S. — I have more free advice on managing finances together in my healthy relationships collection. I hope you’ll check it out — I made it all for you!

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

  • 01:30 Financial Tensions in Relationships
  • 03:26 Money as a Symbol of Deeper Relationship Issues
  • 04:47 The Emotional Significance of Money
  • 07:39 Aligning Perspectives on Money
  • 08:05 The Limitations of Standard Advice on Money Conversations
  • 10:00 Addressing the Emotional Aspect of Money
  • 12:50 The Rider and the Elephant Metaphor
  • 16:33 The Structured Process of Financial Counseling
  • 18:39 Unpacking the History and Family Culture Around Money
  • 19:37 Understanding the Value Systems Attached to Money
  • 22:27 Example of Different Orientations Towards Money
  • 24:22 Creating a Shared Vision for the Family’s Financial Management
  • 26:44 Developing a Productive Conversation Around Finances
  • 28:31 Conclusion and Additional Resources

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Lisa Marie Bobby:

This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. On today’s show, we are diving into something that can be pretty tender, and it is also a crucial aspect of healthy relationships, being able to talk about money without the drama for a couple to get on the same page about finances without it turning into a disaster as it so often does.

It can be so fraught. So if you’ve ever found yourself in a conversation with your partner about finances that has turned into a full blown freak out free for all. Or if you’re not talking about money at all, and it’s turning into like a resentee kind of thing, stay tuned for some valuable insights and also some real world strategies that you can use to create alignment around finances.

So I’ll just say, and I am saying this as a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m also a licensed psychologist, but I mean, really, I specialize in healthy relationships. And I will tell you that in my many, many years of practice, I have worked with so many couples or even individuals who are in partnerships who are highly stressed about what is going on when it comes to finances and the intersection of money and their relationships.

Money and financial matters are just notorious for causing tension. In relationships and whether it is, you know, being on the same page about a budget or whether or not to share finances, the spending habits of one person, or really, I think, like working together to achieve long term financial goals.

Discussing money can feel like an absolute mind field and, and because of that, all kinds of weird relationship dynamics can start to happen around money. Power and control issues, hypervigilance, also concealing things or avoiding like hiding things about money, but it can create over time this very powerful powerful, like sense of disconnection and this gulf between two people that can really erode the fabric of a relationship over time.

You know, it said that one of the most commonly cited reasons for a divorce is conflict related to money. And I believe that is true. I will also tell you That, and here’s what I would love for you to take away from this podcast, and we’ll be unpacking this more, but it’s not really about money specifically at all.

Just like how people who get divorced, citing conflict over housework or parenting, like it’s not. really about who’s unloading the dishwasher or when it is happening. These things tap into much, much, much larger things when it comes to love, connection, What does it mean to be a couple or a family? Do you love and respect me or not?

Can I trust you? These are the kinds of big themes that are always at the core of whether a relationship succeeds or fails. And money is a very, very powerful symbol. Of all of these different things, it has exceptionally deep roots and it is highly emotional. Financial security is attached to so many different things for all of us.

And it’s also very, um, subjective, right? Money means different things to different people. Some of the things it can mean are My worth as a person can be attached to how much money I have or don’t have. My A security like my fundamental safety in the world can be attached to how much money I have or don’t have what we do with money can be very strongly connected to our values, like our, um, Sense of what should be done with money, how money should be handled, the correct way to relate to finances can be statements of value systems, like good people behave this way with money, they, they engage with it.

in this manner versus questionable people or even bad people, morally dubious people do these kinds of things with money. Not as conscious thoughts, but as like very old cultural programming, often from our families of origin. Money can also be a stand in for love, depending on what money looked like at your house growing up.

Money can also mean fun. It can mean joy, it can mean the meaning of life, you know, having a good time, what this is all about, you know, we work so hard so that we can spend our money in ways that bring us enjoyment and satisfaction. Money can mean how we’re protecting and caring for our children, you know, paving away for, for their future prospects.

I mean, money is just attached to so many things and again, they are, they’re not little things. None of the things that I described, it’s a little thing. It’s connected to really just viscerally powerful stuff. And so this is why conversations about money become so heavily loaded and so, you know, explosive sometimes why it can be so difficult to see your partner’s perspective and why it is.

Very difficult oftentimes to create alignment around money. If you guys are coming from different places, uh, around it, which I mean, we all are like, none of us is marrying a mirror replica of ourselves. Right? So that’s why conversations about money are as hard as they are. And also why a lot of the advice that we get about.

You know, how to have a better financial relationship with our partners is setting you up to fail because it’s not addressing any of these deeper issues. It’s not even touching where the action really is. I mean, imagine the advice that is like, you know, standard issue advice. All right. So like how to talk to your partner about money.

Okay. So, you know, don’t, don’t bring up money during arguments. It’s not going to end well. Okay. That, that’s probably valid, but like choosing a neutral time to discuss finances. All right. You know, kind of matter of factly, but it also ignores the fact that. Any time you begin to have a conversation about money, if you and your partner have strong feelings that are different than each other’s and are both have ideas about what we should do with our money that might seem diametrically opposed, it is likely going to turn into a conflict, even if you started it at a calm moment, because again, we’re going in to really Deep stuff.

When we talk about money, even if we aren’t fully aware of the depth of it, you’re like, well, I’m just, I’m just talking about how much we’re paying on, you know, bills or like how much we’re spending on restaurants. Like that’s another problem with money conversations, that it’s extremely easy to. trick yourself into believing that this is intellectual.

Like this is math. We have this much money a month. We want to spend that much money a month. We have this much leftover. What’s the problem? And so again, many cops, usually one person in a couple, you know, comes into these conversations. Like I made a spreadsheet and it’s like math and numbers. And when we add it up and like interest rates, I’m like, whoa.

Okay. Coming at it in that way obscures the reality that it’s like you’re, you’re sitting on this emotional thing that is very much alive and it is very present. And this is a huge mistake because if you think you’re talking about math and not actually realizing that there’s this, you know, huge emotional thing happening, you’re going to be very surprised when that conversation takes a turn.

You won’t understand what’s going on and you’ll be frustrated. Like why can’t we just make a budget without realizing that you are sabotaging yourself because you’re missing like the whole and much more important part of the conversation. A metaphor that I’ve used on different podcasts in the past, uh, is applicable here as well.

There is a metaphor, the rider and the elephant, a tiny little human sitting on a big gigantic elephant. The elephant is symbolic of our emotional mind, our limbic brain, the part of our consciousness that isn’t conscious, the part of our. Self really that like lives in darkness. It doesn’t think it feels and it is elemental and it is incredibly powerful.

It is linked to survival drives. It is linked to love and attachment, just linked to our feelings of safety and security in the world and our, our status in the world. I mean, like big old mammal brain kinds of things. The writer is the symbol of this. tiny little bit of our brains, you know, the 10 percent that actually contributes to conscious thought, logical thinking.

And you know, that’s, that’s the part of our brains that we inhabit. That’s the part of our brains where the lights are on, right? Like we kind of know what’s happening in there. And so we all are vulnerable to getting tricked into believing that the writer part is all there is, that our logical arguments are, you know, here’s what’s going on kind of mindset.

Um, is the truth and I think we have all experienced the difficulty of wanting consciously to do something or like follow through with something and without recognizing the fact that we are all sitting on this giant piece. elephant brain that is so much stronger and more powerful than that little rider, it is going to wander off into a different direction or, or carry us into something that we aren’t consciously thinking that we want to go.

So it is extremely important in all things to create a positive working relationship between the rider and the elephant. And the elephant and this how to talk about money example is, is a really great example of that. If you’re approaching this from like an intellectual writer mentality, not realizing that you’re sitting on this giant elephant, it is not going to go well.

You won’t know why you won’t be able to solve problems with your partner. And so the path to making this be different is opening up. That that communication channel, it is acknowledging the reality that this giant elephant exists and then really learning how to work with that in a very direct way so that you are consciously directing an elephant rather than being the sort of disconnected, you know, disembodied thought that like.

doesn’t understand why this is so hard. So I hope that that idea helps you when it comes to money arguments. I know it might be a surprise. I mean, we, we think about finances and just this very matter of fact way, but, but again, most couples struggle with talking about money. And this is why. So I hope that this perspective just kind of helps you conceptually get a handle on what’s going on, but also helps you understand why the standard issue advice that you’re going to get sounds good, you know, in theory should work, but if you’re not like aware of, oh, but the elephant, it’ll, it’ll blow up.

So let’s talk then a little bit about how to work with the elephant, because that has to come first. Once you do that, once you and your partner can crack into the emotional pieces of this, haul it all out, understand it, do really deep and powerful growth work together on this kind of level, then all the other stuff is.

really easy. The, the standard issue advice, you know, have calm conversations, make a budget together, discuss your longterm goals for your life. Like all of that stuff is so easy to do if you and your partner are riding elephants in the same direction. Okay. So let’s talk about how to do that. First of all, recognizing that The conversations themselves are attached to big, deep things and may feel emotionally fraught in surprising ways, meaning that it can spiral into conflictual feeling conversations very easily, and that both of you are going to have really deep attachments to your own perspective, understanding that and like, Allowing that a bit is going to create the kind of emotional safety that will allow you to have much more productive conversations.

And the first thing that we need to do and, and right now I’m gonna shift, okay, I’m gonna put on my marriage counselor hat and I’m going to tell you how financial counseling for couples really works so that you can, uh, if. If you can use some of these skills and strategies at home to have these conversations and to improve your relationship in this area.

Okay. So we’re going to be talking about what the structured process looks like, like what we walk our clients through here, a growing self, just to illuminate what the pathway looks like. I want to shine a light on this path for you. So step one is acknowledging the power of it. And recognizing that there’s a lot of, they’re there, their roots go super deep.

That first step validates the experience of both people in a new way. Because when couples come into marriage counseling and they’re fighting about money, there are very powerful core beliefs about the right way to do money that are deeply rooted And that turns into a lot of judgment and criticism of the other person.

I am correct and you are wrong. And we are here in marriage counseling for you to finally understand. I’m going to be talking about how to be more like me and how to teach you how to be more like me. Many people come into marriage counseling with this mindset, not just about money, about all kinds of things.

And so. I say this with some trepidation because I think if, if it were common knowledge that was actually going to happen in marriage counseling is not that nobody would want to come anymore. But the truth is that in order for this to be productive, we need to like take away that mindset and just raise the possibility that both people in this situation have very valid voices.

Understandable needs, rights, feelings, core beliefs that, that came from somewhere and that our job is to figure out where they came from, how it makes sense and how to help both people in the situation honor and respect. These different perspectives, rather than coming up on this high horse about I’m right and you’re wrong, so you need to be more like me kind of thing that that invariably starts to happen with money fights.

So with a marriage and family therapist, such as myself. One of the first things that we’re going to do is unpacking the history. There are many interventions that we can use to crack into this, but one of my favorites is something called a genogram. This is a type of assessment, a marriage and family therapy assessment.

assessment that is essentially, and we have to construct this over a couple of sessions, right? But it is a structured interview that results in a literal map of families. So me, you, my family, your family, your kids, your grandparents, your https: otter. ai But from this map, we can begin engaging in conversations about where we both come from because differences in our orientations to money and finances are connected to our family culture in ways that are incredibly powerful and difficult to see until we do this kind of assessment And mapping.

So we’re talking about culture, value systems, core beliefs, expectations of two people’s different family experiences. And it is just, just mapping it out, just talking about the differences so that each person can even develop self awareness. of, huh, yeah, that’s, this is, these are like the, the meta messages that I inherited from my family of origin about money, how we relate to money, how money is required, how we manage money, what is a virtuous thing to do with money versus a bad thing to do with money.

Those are all programmed into us at very early ages. And most of us. I have a lot of baggage around money, to be completely honest with you. I mean, in my own family, I probably felt more comfortable talking to my parents about sex than I did about money. And I did not feel even remotely comfortable saying the S word in front of my parents.

Like, yeah, but like we did not talk about money. You know, my dad was like super aware about money and a lot of people’s parents are, but, but we don’t really fully realize how these early experiences shape our own expectations and subconscious core beliefs around this very symbolic thing that is very important in all of our lives, which is money.

Right. So we unpack all of it through structured activities like genograms, structured interviews. So we’re talking as a couple around, this is where I come from. This is, this is why I am the way that I am when it comes to my belief systems about money. And this is why it makes sense given where I came from.

So we’re understanding this from ourselves, but also doing this together as a couple helps each person really understand. The legitimacy of their partner’s perspective and belief system in a much more compassionate way. It turns into conversations that begin illuminating the value systems that people have attached to money, the symbolic truths that money means to them.

I’ll share a, an example, um, again, personally, you know, my, my. family got weird about money. A lot of secrecy, you know, I was never taught how to manage money because we never talked about it at all. So, you know, there’s that, but also like a scarcity mindset, even though it was like, you know, not, not rich, but middle class family, but That, that isn’t how it felt because my dad had like a lot of money trauma.

Anyway, my husband’s family, on the other hand, had a very different orientation towards money. My husband, um, needed to work for whatever he got and, and did that. But that money was sort of for the purpose of acquiring things that he wanted and valued and that gave him joy. So you can just imagine here’s a very, very common dynamic.

I’m coming from the scarcity mindset orientation about like money is this little thing and we need to hoard it and not talk about it and certainly not spend it and, and you know, my husband just like. But I really want that new camera and I earned this money, so I’m just going to buy it. You can imagine the mayhem that ensued.

And so a lot of couples get into dynamics like this, right? But the. The reason why it will damage a relationship is because it’s almost impossible to see where the other person is coming from, right? Um, from Matt’s perspective, I was a unsupportive killjoy. And from my perspective, he was selfish and irresponsible.

And that was a long time ago. We worked through it with the support of marriage counseling that helped us unpack all of these things. But you can see where it goes. However, through that work and like the kind of work that I’m talking about, it is. possible to really develop a more robust understanding of where this is coming from.

And then we can be moving into a different, um, uh, growth kind of process for each person in a couple that helps them honor and respect. Respect their own feelings and values and preferences, but also be valuing and respecting those of their partner in a different way. Because the goal of every married couple is to develop their own family.

I mean, whether or not you have kids, it is in this partnership, in this relationship, we are creating a family. a family that is defined by these shared values. We are co creating the culture of this family. This is what we stand for. This is what we are about. And this family honors and respects the needs and rights and feelings of.

Both of us, so that at the end of the day, neither of us are trying to replicate exactly where we came from. We are seeing each other with openness and authenticity and love and creating something brand new that takes into consideration. Where, where each came from, but also where we both want to go and what are our shared dreams and hopes for the future?

How does money play into that? How is it a part of that? And how do we work together to create our, our shared vision for really what we want our, our family and our relationship to be all about? And then money becomes a part. Of that, not the only piece of it, obviously, I mean, we’re like doing that on a lot of different levels.

However, when this kind of growth work is done, there is a whole new chapter that is now possible for couples when it comes to getting on the same page about money and talking about it. Typically through the process that I have just described, we’re also going to need to be talking about communication skills because how we communicate and relate to each other is also very much defined by, you know, how, how we learned how to do that in our respective family of origin experiences.

So, you know, that’s a piece of it. But at the end of the day, now, now we can have a very productive conversation around how we want to be managing. Money together as a couple. So how do we decide how finances are shared in equitable ways that feel good to both of us? How do we have conversations about who does what when it comes to financial operations in our home?

Um, How do we create structures and routines and systems that allow us to both have visibility into our finances so that we can be making joint decisions and also just like knowing where all the different things are? How can we have regular conversations around, okay, here is how much money we have coming in?

And how are we making shared? Conjoint decisions about what we want to do with that going out that that also have a lot of space and flexibility and tolerance for each person’s preferences. So by the end of that conversation, there’s a lot of compromise and it’s maybe not exactly what each of you would have wanted if you’ve been living, you know, just according to your own devices.

However, this is a relationship and so this is how we do it in a relationship is that it is a, a shared vision. And then of course it turns into an action plan. What are the nuts and bolts of how we actually create and manage a budget? How do we keep track of the comings and goings when we talk about savings goals?

You know, what, what is, what are those numbers and what are the accounts and where do they go and do we set up auto pay? But you know, all of that stuff becomes very, very easy once. The two elephants are, are walking in generally the same direction. So this might not be the conversation that you expected to have today when you started listening to a podcast about how to talk about money with your partner.

But I hope that it has provided you with a different. perspective on what the problem actually is so that you can stop feeling frustrated about problem and start having more productive conversations with your partner that actually lead to growth and positive change for your finances, but also for your relationship, because this is where we need to go.

If you would like to learn more on this topic, I have so many more resources for you. Come to growingself. com. So my, my counseling and coaching practice is growing, self counseling and coaching website is growingself. com. And I have so many. free resources for you. So if you come to my website, go to the blog and podcast section, and from there, enter the love collection.

Uh, there you’ll find all kinds of different content collections that have, uh, I’ve curated for you on just various aspects of healthy relationships. And the one that you want is one called growing together. And in this collection, I have assembled a bunch of different articles and podcasts. It’s for you that are on, uh, certainly the topic of money and marriage and love and money.

So you’ll find all of that there, but, but this is just one. topic related to the kind of growth work that all couples really need to do on the path of attaining relational maturity, right? Like all couples have to do the work of building a healthy relationship. Uh, we talked about one aspect of this today and what it looks like, but there are certainly many more.

I mean, there are facets of this related to how do we parent? How do we communicate? How do we, you know, operate our lives? How do we create an equitable partnership in terms of who does what, you know, that feels balanced? How do we manage, uh, create shared priorities for our lives? You know, how do we spend our time?

How do we co create a vision that, uh, honors both of our values, right? So all of this type of topics is there in the growing together content collection. So I find articles, a curated podcast playlist, and I do hope that you check it out. I made it for you and it’s there for you all free. Um, so I hope you find value there.

Anyway, thank you so much for joining me today for this episode of the podcast. I love this topic. I’m glad that we talked about it. I hope it’s helpful to you and I’ll be back in touch with you next week with another episode. Okay. Take care.

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