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Are you tired of having the same old fights about money? Discover how these three tips can help you to have a productive conversation.

If you want to strengthen your relationship with your spouse, consider starting  with the issue many of us would rather ignore: money!

How a couple talks about money serves as a litmus test for the overall strength of the marriage. According to Jeffrey Dew of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, couples who argue about money even once per week are about thirty percent more likely to divorce.

Money is so central to a marriage because conversations about money involve so many other aspects of life. In fact, conversations about money aren’t really about money at all. They are actually about differences in values, issues of power, or issues of trust.

[Related: My Budget is a Mess]

Difference in Values

How we choose to spend money – and how we don’t – reveals what we value. For example, one partner may want to spend money on experiences such as travel while the other partner cares about decorating the home. One partner may value financial security in retirement while the other may care about lived experiences now. Talking about values means giving each partner an equal say in what they find valuable.

How to Talk About It

Consider a recent money conflict. Did you or your spouse purchase something the other didn’t think was valuable? Do you and your spouse have a difference in spending patterns that has resurfaced over and over again? Write down the purchase and list the values underlying it. Maybe vacations show how you value spending time with your family or seeing the world? Maybe saving for retirement gives you a sense of security and is a response to financial insecurity in your past?

Share your list of values underlying your purchases with each other. Remember that the purpose of this exercise is to listen to each other; there are no right or wrong answers to why you value a particular purchase. You may eventually find new, cost-effective ways to include each of the values in your lives.

Issues of Power

Perhaps one person has a greater role in bookkeeping. That person will have more power in the financial decisions than the other, and the lack of transparency could result in large purchases without the other’s knowledge, breaching trust in the relationship.

How to Talk About It

Make sure each partner has access to the bank account passwords and records and knows how to find all information about your finances. Make sure there is a mutual understanding of where the money is going. If not, take time to explain all of this information. Even if one person is in charge of the accounts and bills, this conversation will create greater financial intimacy, creating a shared sense of power and decision-making in the relationship.

Issues of Trust

Breaking spending agreements or spending without the other’s knowledge is a form of betrayal. Just like other forms of betrayal, financial betrayal can have effects on other parts of the marriage, and it will take time to rebuild trust.

How to Talk About It

Have a conversation about any acts of financial betrayal in your relationship, whether they are large or small. Also discuss whether there are any agreements that you haven’t made that could be helpful. Work on creating a budget, giving what financial expert Dave Ramsey calls a “mission” for each dollar. Even if there hasn’t been a breach of trust in your finances, budgeting together will bring greater financial intimacy and strengthen your shared sense of power and values.

[Related: Budgeting for Beginners]

Your conversations about money won’t really be about money, but they should help both your relationship and your finances. As you dig into your finances, be prepared to listen to each other’s values to create a mutually agreeable budget. Most likely, you will find that you will develop a shared sense of power, and these changes will help you restore any trust that was broken and have a clear path moving forward.

Talk About It
  1. What is your initial reaction to this topic? What jumped out at you?
  2. Have you ever had a fight about money/a financial breach of trust with your spouse? What happened?
  3. What role does each person have in terms of finances in your marriage? Does one person have a greater role in bookkeeping or paying bills?
  4. Do you think your conversations about money are really about money? What do you think you and your spouse are actually talking about when the topic of money comes up?
  5. How do your choices about spending compare or contrast with your spouse’s choices?
  6. List a spending choice that differs from your spouse’s. What values underlie that choice? Are there more cost-effective ways to incorporate these values into your life?
  7. How do you make sure each partner has access to all financial information? Is there a way you could improve this access to financial information?
  8. Do you and your partner have a budget? How could you improve your budgeting process?
  9. How do you think talk about money mirrors other aspects of your relationship?
  10. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
This topic is adapted from the Monika Hoyt YouTube channel.