5 Crucial Tips for Talking About Money in Marriage

When working with couples in therapy, there are some themes that continue to arise, couple after couple, story after story. One of these is that finances are difficult, that managing and talking about money carries with it high risk for tension, disagreement, unhealthy communication patterns and hurt.

In the future, I may write an article detailing why money is such a tricky topic. However, today’s article will offer a to-the-point list of five tips to improve how you talk about money in your marriage. If you can apply these five tips, you and your spouse will open the door to many fruitful financial discussions.

1. Recognize the Attachment Messages

Don’t forget that discussions about money are discussions about more than just money. As with everything, there is always an attachment-themed message wrapped into the situation. For example, when John gets angry that Hailey spent money on frivolous things, he’s also experiencing a sense of hurt that they share different priorities, and an unmet desire for closeness, communication and mutual respect. When Amanda continues nagging that Oliver doesn’t budget well enough, she’s also experiencing fear of instability, and an unmet desire for security, rest and trust. What massive themes we find underneath such sharp emotions and reactions. When you talk about money, make sure you are trying to listen for your spouse’s attachment messages, and voicing your own as well. How are your unmet desires playing into your perspective? What about your spouse’s? How can you meet those desires and make your partner feel heard in their need? 

2. Talk About Your Pasts

Understanding each other’s points of view and inner worlds is one of the most important first steps to then coming together in decisions. If you find yourselves arguing about different priorities with finances, find a time to share about where those priorities might come from. Ask each other about how your parents managed money, what your parents did and didn’t spend on, how you were raised to think about money, any significant positive or negative experiences in your youth related to money. Be genuinely curious about your spouse’s stories, listening with an ear to understand and imagine yourself in their shoes. As you both gain understanding for each other’s pasts, it will increase your understanding for each other’s current view of money, and that greater understanding will help you to remain kind and empathetic during money disagreements in the future.

3. Know Each Other’s Priorities

Having explicit conversations about your spending priorities can ensure you aren’t surprised by how your spouse treats money in the future, as well as foster opportunities to agree on priorities together. If your household income magically increased by 10%, how would you prefer to use that money? If it magically decreased by 10%, how would you prefer to adjust? Thinking about these questions can tell you about your spending priorities. Try this: you and your spouse each write down your own answers to these questions, privately. Be extremely honest in your answers, thinking of your desires, not what you think your spouse would prefer. Then, share your answers with each other and discuss. What can you learn from each other and about each other? Where can you agree? How can you fit your unique prioritizations into a unified value system?

4. Voice Your Feelings

We’ve all heard the advice to use “I” statements. This practice is enhanced by making them “I feel” statements, and it is useful in financial conversations, as well as any others. If you notice an emotion arise related to money, try to name the emotion that is happening inside you, rather than let the emotion fuel a reaction. For example, instead of saying, “You keep spending too much!”, you could say, “I feel scared when I see you spending because it makes me worry for our future. I feel fear right now.” Instead of saying, “I can’t stand how frugal you can be with gifts!”, you could say, “I feel angry when we don’t get other people big gifts, because it feels like a disrespect of my culture and what others expect. I’ll admit I’m a little mad right now.” Of course, the conversation doesn’t end with naming your emotion. Ideally, it continues forward into you and your spouse hearing each other’s emotions, doing what’s necessary to soothe those emotions, and then returning to financial decision-making only once the emotions are deescalated. 

5. Manage Your Cognitive Distortions

Some of my past articles have touched on the way that thoughts impact marriages. This is certainly applicable to the topic of money. When discussing money with your spouse, make sure you are keeping your cognitive distortions in check. For example, the distortion of all-or-nothing thinking might lead you to think, “If we can’t meet our financial goal this month, we’re doomed.” However, you could rebalance it with a thought like, “If we can’t meet our goal this month, it will certainly be troubling, but we will find a way to handle it, like we always do,” or “What evidence do I have that we won’t meet our goal? Am I jumping ahead of myself?”. The distortion of personalization might lead you to think, “My spouse isn’t following the budget I created because he doesn’t care about anything I care about. He doesn’t love me fully.” However, you could rebalance it with a thought like, “I am curious as to why my spouse is not following my budget. There’s something happening for him that’s impacting his follow-through on the budget. What can I learn about him and his inner world here?”, or “This is about my spouse, not me. He’s not trying to attack me when he doesn’t follow through. I can think of evidence that he loves me and cares about our happiness too.” 


As you read the above tips, can you think of ways to apply each of them to your marriage? Can you practice staying mindful of them in the heat of a conversation? I trust that these five tips will help promote healthy, fruitful conversations about money in your marriage. At some point in the future, I will write subsequent articles with more tips on talking about money, as well as managing it. Remember, if you and your spouse can improve the way you talk about money, then you can far more smoothly arrive at agreements, compromises, decisions and plans. 


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