If you are a saver and your partner is a spender, or vice versa, you likely know something about the strife that comes with sharing a life with someone who doesn’t always share your financial habits.
Everything may be fine…for a while. Then, one day you sit down to apply for a mortgage together and don’t qualify for the lowest interest rate because one of you is carrying a big credit card balance. Or the other was late with a payment. It might be hard for the partner with the better credit to hide their resentment. It might be even more difficult for the partner with the not-as-good credit to swallow their shame.
Maggie Baker, Ph.D., a psychologist and financial therapist, says disagreeing about how to save and spend money is a very common issue for couples. And while you may never be totally on the same page when it comes to handling your finances, there are steps you can take to open the lines of communication with your partner, listen more, judge less, and find some peace on the road ahead.
Baker offers these guidelines to help couples work through money issues together:
Schedule financial dates
Don’t wait for a financial crisis to have a crucial conversation. Set a regular date for a time to talk when you are both at your best. Make sure no one is hungry or thirsty. Put away your phones. Then, set a time limit of no more than an hour and 15 minutes to discuss your feelings about your finances.
Practice your listening skills
During the date, actively listen to your partner, even if you completely disagree with what they are saying. Allow them to speak without being interrupted. Then, offer feedback, without negative comments, telling them exactly what you heard them say so they know you listened. Then, ask your partner to listen to you in the same way. This exercise should allow each person to better understand where the other person is coming from. After going through a more formalized listening process the first time around, follow-up financial dates can be less structured, but should still stick to the time limit for hashing out difficult subject matter.
While you may not want to take on all of the bill-paying responsibilities at home, you can offer to show your partner how to automate credit card payments to help build their credit (and confidence) back up. Often, the partner who likes to spend feels embarrassment or humiliation they may not even recognize they are feeling. That’s why empathy and positive support are vital as you communicate about money matters.
“Shame is a very powerful emotion and it tends to overtake people’s rational thinking,” Baker says. “If someone is a chronic over spender, they are out of control and they feel helpless to do anything about it. If they get support and encouragement from their partner, that often reduces the shame and that goes a long way to help the spender deal with their emotions.”
Create a budget together
Once you are communicating more openly about your short-term and long-term financial goals, you could use your weekly or monthly financial dates to go over a spending plan together. Studies show that some of the factors with the greatest influence on our financial security are vigilance, persistence and team work. If you take the time and effort to put your energy into making financial goals together, and work as advocates, couples can end up feeling empowered and in control of their money instead of feeling like their money is controlling them.
Consider financial counseling
If you and your partner can’t resolve money issues on your own, consider seeking assistance from an accredited financial therapist or counselor. If your spouse doesn’t want to take part, go alone and then share what you learned.
With reporting by Casandra Andrews