Listen now: Why having open conversations about money with your spouse or partner may help strengthen your relationship and how to start the conversation.
Wells Fargo About Money is a new podcast series presented by Wells Fargo. By understanding our money behaviors, we all have the opportunity to make better money decisions.
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Hey, humans, I’m Michael Liersch, PhD, behavioral science, Head of Advice and Planning for Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management. And this is the About Money Podcast presented by Wells Fargo. I’m a behavioral scientist who loves openly discussing money to help humans better understand their money behaviors. By understanding our money behaviors, we all have the opportunity to make better money decisions.
We’re gonna have a lot of fun together, and start our first season with money taboos. For many of us, money was and still is a taboo topic to openly discuss. The question is, why? We’re gonna address those taboos head on. And break through money silence. So we can all get closer to our money goals.
In this episode, we’re gonna ask ourselves how do I have the money talk with my spouse or my partner? Whew. This one’s a tough one. When it comes to money talk with spouses or partners, it’s taboo because many people know that one of the top reasons why couples separate or de-couple is because of what? Money.
And when you think about that, we have to really consider what’s going on there, because money is one of the most essential parts of our life and helps us achieve what we want to in that life. And so if money is causing us to de-couple or separate from those that we care about and love, there’s a disconnect there very clearly.
And I know I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. I hear this from people who are about to become a couple. They ask, well, how do I start the conversation about money? And I think that’s probably where it’s more informative. And I ask them back, well, what are you struggling with when it comes to money talk? And what they tell me is they suspect deep down that there are different values and different perspectives when it comes to money, especially how to use it. How to spend it. And how to access it.
So when I say how to use it, what I mean is this idea of investing it or making the money grow. There are different perspectives potentially on risk or what’s a good thing or productive thing to make money more productive.
When I talk about spending it, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Some people like to spend more than others and there’s this fear that perhaps one of the members of the couple is a big spender, and the other one doesn’t like spending at all.
I can tell you in my relationship I’ve struggled there as well and I’m gonna be very non-judgmental. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong there. I think there are just different points of view.
The third one on how to access money; this is one that comes up quite often with new couples, especially around debt. There’s a fear of getting into the money conversation, because perhaps it’ll reveal that either someone’s more comfortable with debt, than the other. Or that one member of the couple is bringing in a lot of debt when the other doesn’t have any.
And so when we think about starting off these conversations in this way where there’s just a true fear of even bringing it up, because there’s a concern there’s already a disconnect or difference; you’re kind of starting the relationship off in a tough way, because what happens is already making money taboo at the beginning of that relationship. And there are no easy answers here. There really aren’t.
But thinking about the start of those relationships, and thinking about your own relationships and where you’re at today, whether you are in the beginning or whether you’re far into your relationship, really trying to get past this idea of money silence, it’s pretty important. It’s pretty critical since money is so important and, again, since we know it can be the number one reason or one of the reasons why couples are no longer couples.
So what’s the bottom line here when it comes to spouses and partners and money talk? The bottom line is you really need to focus on the following when it comes to trying to start a money conversation with that person that you care about or that you love.
You need to focus on not all the things you disagree about, but rather all the things you agree on. And I know that sounds potentially obvious, but it’s not necessarily couples’ natural inclination. So, as you’re thinking about the things you may agree on, one of the great ways to begin that dialogue is around your financial goals, what you want to accomplish with money, especially when it comes down to the positive things that you’d like to accomplish with money together.
So I’m gonna give you three categories of things that you may want to consider exploring in your relationship around those types of values, goals, objectives that you might want to accomplish together that can kick off this conversation.
The first category is around your lifestyle, and making sure you have enough money for the rest of your life. That’s commonly a shared objective with partners and couples, that you don’t want to run out of money, or that you want to have enough money for the rest of your life.
The second one is often around family. So perhaps you have children, you have parents, you have family members that you’re supporting: how do you support them in the most productive way?
And then the third category is around the community. Are there any values, any interests you have in terms of helping the community out with the money that you have or the money that you make?
So lifestyle, family, community. Those can be some core and foundational ideas to kick off this conversation in the context of what you want to accomplish with money, not necessarily what you’re doing with your money today.
When you think about these types of conversations, I want to help lead you into action. So you say okay Michael, I get it. So I don’t want to get into a fight. So let’s not start with disagreement, let’s start with this idea of what we want to accomplish together in maybe any one of these categories: lifestyle, family, community. But what do I do practically speaking?
So what I would encourage you to do is set up a deliberate conversation with your spouse or partner–and you’re gonna catch this theme from me as a behavioral scientist–setting aside actual time and energy and focus without devices, without distractions, is often critical to having a productive conversation. Especially because when everyone’s not distracted, and you know the purpose of the dialogue, and also it has a beginning and an end time to it, it can often be more productive than if you’re distracted by a lot of different things or you have a lot of other ideas in your mind. For example, you’re waiting for that phone call, or you’re waiting for that text. That can really prevent everyone from listening to one another in the most productive way.
So in terms of taking actions. Make that deliberate time. It doesn’t need to be a long period of time. It could be a short period of time. Again, 30 minutes maybe and you sit down and outline first independently: So I’d encourage you both to write down on a piece of paper what your objectives, your goals are with your money. But I want you to take on a different frame. Instead of making it about yourself, I want you to think about what you would like to accomplish with that spouse or partner. So this isn’t your individual goal, this is a list of goals or objectives that you want to accomplish with that other person. So that can help set this frame of where you might agree and so you’re already there.
The second thing that I encourage you to do once you’ve written this down in terms of taking action, is to share that information with one another in a very deliberate way. So one person shares their perspectives while the other one’s silent and listens. So no interjecting. And give someone the space, a couple of minutes to share their thoughts and ideas, then flip the frame. Have the other person share their thoughts and feelings.
The third thing I’d like you to do is identify what was common about what you said, what was similar, and focus on those areas of common ground. And when you identify those areas of common ground—so perhaps it’s about making sure that you can meet your monthly expenses, or perhaps it’s making sure that you can provide education for a child, perhaps it’s, again, supporting the community in a particular way—try to be very specific, or at least as specific as you can, think about, together as you close the conversation, how you’re gonna take that next action to get there. You know, what’s that next step that you are going to take together to make that occur.
And so whether that is looking at your expenses–what you spend on eating out, food, what you spend on clothes. Whether it is about your savings behaviors or your investing behaviors, whether it is about your giving behaviors, really taking a look at that very deliberately together and saying okay, what do we agree on that could actually get us there or closer to that point can start this idea of a productive dialogue. Because what you don’t want to do is in the beginning of overcoming those taboos in the relationship around money, is really move into this area of disagreement. You want to practice that collaboration first.
So as you’re going through this process, I’m not gonna tell you it’s easy. Many of the things I’m telling you about are research-based ideas and things I’ve done myself. So there may be hiccups. It may be tough. It may be uncomfortable. This is all normal. This is all natural. It’s not anything that is unexpected.
There’s a lot of information on this idea that opposites attract. This is a good thing. And why I say it’s a good thing is that actually disagreement can be the most productive things for human beings because it gives you a contrarian point of view. It challenges your perspectives.
So as you walk into these conversations while I’m asking you to focus on agreement first so that you can move into a productive environment – especially if you’re not used to it– I don’t want you to think that disagreement is bad. That can be a very good thing. But you want productive disagreement, not unproductive disagreement.
So with that, I want you to think about one final action. When you are trying to have this dialogue or open up a dialogue with your spouse or partner, or your spouse or partner to be, I want you to really think about your own personal motivations in that conversation. Is this about you? Is it about them? Is it about both of you together? And as you think about your own motivations, it can be interesting to think about the relationships you’ve observed, you’ve seen in the past. Your parents. Your grandparents. And that can maybe set a stage for you to really consider your reference points. What did you think worked about those relationships? What didn’t work about those relationships? And what might you want to actively try to change about those dynamics so that your dynamic with your spouse or partner is more productive at least from a financial perspective?
So with that, I really encourage you to get started, and get started today. And again, there may be hiccups along the way, that’s normal. And I hope you have a great money conversation with your spouse or your partner. I’m gonna go have one with Rachel right after this.
That was it for this episode of the About Money Podcast. Please email us with ideas or topics that you’d like us to address at AboutMoney@wellsfargo.com. If you really liked the episode, share it with your family, friends, or anyone who listens to podcasts. Wells Fargo About Money is produced by Wells Fargo. I’m Michael Liersch asking you to talk about money today.
This information is provided for educational and illustrative purposes only.
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