Why can’t we talk about money with our partners?

Fishing partners

I’ve talked about why it’s so hard to share financial struggles with your friends and peer group.

But surely you can talk to a partner right? This is a person with which you want to travel through life.

And yet, this is so often not the case.

I wish my partner would come here to talk about this stuff with me” is one the most common laments I hear during meetings of the Portland Integrative Finance Community.

It seems like we have a lot of partners who aren’t communicating about finances.

And this is troubling for all sorts of reasons.

Fear of misalignment

I think people don’t want to communicate about money with their partners for some of the same reasons why their don’t talk about it with their friends: shame, guilt, all those toxic feelings which causes us to check out and avoid the important topics.

But with partners, it can get much more intense. This is because the way one handles money works in lockstep with how one plans and organizes one’s life.

And there is a great fear there: the fear that partners don’t align in their values.

One person wants to save up a down payment and buy a home. The other wants to buy right now (because the market!) or maybe doesn’t want to buy at all.

One person wants to go on a vacation. The other thinks they should be saving their money.

One wants to keep track of their expenses. The other one doesn’t want anything to do with it.

Faced with these potential incompatibilities, many couples check out, do their own thing, don’t work together. Or, just as bad, let one person make all of the decisions.

And whether you’re sharing finances or not, this can have drastic and far-reaching issues for a relationship.

What we talk about when we talk about finances

I posit that talking about one’s finances, and the emotions that accompany them, are vital to a successful and fulfilling relationship.

But Mike“, you say, “my partner doesn’t want to talk about these things!

Maybe it’s worth trying to figure out why. Are they feeling intimidated or, worse judged? (Might you have contributed to this?) Moreover, if someone is avoidant, they may see the task a chore rather than an opportunity for increased connection.

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And make no mistake, that’s what it is. Talking about finances can very much be a connecting, loving experience.

Why? Because we’re not just talking about money; we’re talking about dreams.

Have you been frustrated that your partner doesn’t want to help balancing your budget? If so, perhaps you haven’t explained what it means to you to do that. Perhaps you’ve only described it in terms of “more money” or “financial well-being” or other abstractions, when in actuality what you’ve really been talking about is the ability to achieve goals, goals that you can share together.

Maybe you’ve been talking too much about the numbers and not enough about the feelings.

And if you’re someone who would rather perform your own hone dentistry than talk about budgets, maybe it would be easier for you if you saw a connection between doing the work now and the benefits you can reap because of the work.

Getting on the same page

But Mike,” you continue, “what if it turns out that we’re not on the same page?

I’d argue that that’s normal, up to a point. We partner with people who are presumably similar to us, but aren’t the same. We each have our own order of importance to things. And everyone has their own level of risk tolerance.

That said, I believe we all share similar desires. I think we all want the best for ourselves and our loved ones. We want security and safety. We want the ability to have choices.

The variations are often just in the details.

And if all else fails

But Mike,” you continue, “what if it turns out that we’re really incompatible?

There are only certain things on which you can compromise. You can potentially compromise on the type of house you want to live in or when to buy or rent. But you can’t compromise on having kids. It’s an either-or.

And sometimes, when one airs one’s dreams, one finds out a painful truth: your dreams might be incompatible.

But even then, that’s a reason to have these conversations, not hide from them.

Not to minimize the pain of realization, but wouldn’t you want to know you were incompatible now, rather than have it trickle out over the course of years?

I’d say it’s best to move on sooner than later.

That said, I’d argue that the majority of incompatibilities between partners stems from different ways of communicating rather than fundamental incompatibilities.

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Start with dreams. Let the money discussions happen from there, afterward. You will be glad you did.

But enough about me. How do you communicate with a partner about money?

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