Couples and Money

April 14th, 2010


Money is often one of the hardest subjects for couples to talk about. First, each of us has a unique history around money, beginning with our family of origin, and this can be hard to articulate. Second, money is such a multidimensional topic, connected to issues of independence, safety, freedom, work and pleasure. Couples can easily fall into misunderstandings.

Sometimes my work is to help couples get the conversation going and keep it on track. Sometimes my work is to help each partner figure out what’s important around money and identify their deepest values. When the conversation becomes more collaborative instead of combative, real understanding and change can take place.

Conversations around money are also very practical. Couples have to make a lot of financial decisions together. When they don’t have a shared language or vision, it can be even harder.

John Gottman writes that the task for couples and money is “balancing the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also symbolizes.” He suggests taking three practical steps, which I recommend to couples if they’re willing to try.

First, itemize your current expenses. This is everything from rent to laundry to haircuts. Second, manage everyday finances. This involves prioritizing your expenses, working through any compromises, and deciding who’s going to pay the bills. Third, think about your financial future. This means talking about hopes and fears, noticing the similarities and differences, and taking steps to meet each partner’s goals.

You can read more about each of these steps in Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, in the section titled, “Coping with Typical Solvable Problems.” And although her TV personality is a bit exuberant, I like Suze Orman and think she offers solid practical advice. The Motley Fool is another good site, especially for more info about investing.

My task, which I enjoy, is to help couples talk about both the practical and emotional aspects of money and help them come up with creative conversations, compromises, and solutions.

Let me know if you have any specific questions about couples and money that I can answer in a future post.

antique cash drawer photograph – copyright Sue Hammond 2009

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