Start Fighting for “We” Instead of “Me”:  Your Finances

Do you wish you had more peace around money in your marriage? If so, maybe you’ll see something of yourselves in these scenarios…

You seem to always be at odds with each other over your budget. ‘Going there’ always ends with an argument. One of you loves to have the latest tech device or design touch for your home, and the other really wants to invest more than you have been. Or, what really gets you is that you feel you’re in the dark.  You realize there are gaps in what you know about your financials and chronically not knowing makes you nervous.  Your spouse runs the business. Life moves so fast that you never seem to have time to sit down and look at all the statements together.  Or, your spouse is great with numbers and insists on having control over all your couple financial decisions.  It’s not that you’re not allowed to spend – it’s that you feel you should be informed and have a say in where you’re headed financially, long-term.

In my work as a divorce attorney and family law mediator, I’ve heard about these problems and more from many people who were anxious about their finances.  Much of that anxiety stemmed from one common underlying problem:  in their marriage, as far as it came to finances, they weren’t functioning as a team.

There was a power imbalance or unrealistic expectations around money that never got resolved.

I recently had someone ask me a question (a life-giving question, I might add), “If we’ve never functioned as a team before in money matters, how do we even start?”

Before I answer “how?”, though, I’d like to address you, my sometimes skeptical friend, who wonders why it’s important to even go there.

Why fight for “We” with your finances?

The first question you may have is, Why?  Why would it be better to approach our finances as a team?

A few reasons I prefer this approach are:

  • Two are better than one. Two sets of eyes, two brains at work, two sets of giftings and skill sets are more likely to lead to better outcomes;
  • The principle of ‘no surprise’. When you’re married, both of you are responsible for the financial position of the marriage (in general, divorce laws insist on this). Even if there’s no question of splitting, it’s better for both of you to be clear about what that position is.  No one likes a serious or scary surprise when it comes to financial security.;
  • Aligned goals and efforts. How can you pull in the same direction to achieve your financial goals if you haven’t defined the goals together?

You’ll each still have your own thoughts and opinions about money. But the goal is to listen more and to care more about your partner’s views on money. Your individual financial well-being is impacted by each other.   When you’re not intentionally financially aligned, you set yourselves up for future conflict.  Perhaps the future is even now?!

A transition to a team approach is possible.  My husband Carey and I had years of turmoil over our finances, but we don’t now. Neither of us brought much financial acumen into our marriage, but the changes we needed to make to build financial peace were not complicated.

(I say this to you with a little knowing smile, my friend – you CAN step toward peace with your money!)

How to transition to a team approach with your finances? First, realize that this transition won’t happen over the next week.  Plan to take these steps over the next 2 – 6 months, at your own pace.

Here are 9 steps toward a team approach to finances for your marriage:

  1. Commit to the ground rules of making your money conversations emotionally safe for both of you. It’s okay to have tough emotions when you’re dealing with money issues.  Parking the conversation when one of you needs to because it’s getting too heated is always okay.  There’s no role for criticizing each other in these conversations. Criticism will be counter-productive and can even be destructive. If you’ve been critical toward each other in the past around money, you’ll need to stop making personal jabs or judgments and give your listening and self-control muscles a workout.
  2. Have an open, honest conversation where you talk about all of your assets, your savings and your debts, both in your individual and in both names. Full financial disclosure is a starting point. For a great conversation about the value of and how to fully disclose your financial position, check out my Smart Family Podcast conversation with Aaron Thomas.
  3. Talk about your underlying values around money, in a spirit of curiosity. What’s important to you?  Why?  How can you show your spouse that you care about what they value, in addition to caring about what you value?
  4. Do your homework. If you need more information about personal financial management take a course, talk to a mentor, or do some reading.  You could read I was Broke, Now I’m Not by Joe Sangl, or The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, or Know Yourself, Know Your Money by Rachel Cruz, or I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi.
  5. Now, have another curious conversation about your expectations surrounding money. Both of you need to explain and to hear from the other about expectations for your short term and long term financial health.  You may also need to do some exploring: are your expectations realistic or unrealistic?
  6. Make a shared financial plan with shared goal(s) that both of you buy in to. Include a goal or two for this year.  Maybe your goals will deal with your monthly budget, debt reduction and/or retirement savings.
  7. Define the roles that each of you will play to achieve your goals. It’s okay if someone assumes a greater day-to-day role in bookkeeping, tracking, dealing with investments and so on.
  8. Schedule a weekly financial check-in (15 min. or so) and a longer monthly meeting with you both prepare for. Bring the records to your meeting so you can track your progress.  Keep track of your progress on your annual goals.
  9. Consult with a third party ‘expert’ when you have differences of opinion. An independent financial planner (not selling investments; you pay them for their time) or a mentor with financial acumen can go a long way. They’ll provide you both an independent and impartial assessment of your financial decisions and valuable advice for avoiding pitfalls.

For my husband Carey and I, so many of our minor, day-to-day irritations as well as full-on arguments went away when we managed to get on the same page with our finances.  Seems like a lot of effort?  Sure, it will take time and energy, but I say the benefits FAR outweigh the investments we’ve made.

Challenge yourselves to grow closer by approaching your money as a team.

Find opening yourself to your partner’s perspective a bit threatening?  Hard to do?  Join the club!  During our early years money fights, we would pull out all the stops to try to win the other over to our own approach to money. Not only did it fail, it tore away at our intimacy. But when Carey and I both gingerly tiptoed toward being influenced by each other’s desires around money, we didn’t foresee the delight we would find in our ‘we’.  Could this be you?

Do you have a strategy, tool or tip that helps you work as a team when it comes to your finances? We’d love to hear what’s been  working for you.  Please do tell!

Start Fighting for “WE” Couples Conversation Guide

If you feel like you’re losing touch with each other, maybe you need a pattern disruptor. How do you begin ‘fighting for “WE”‘?  For a start, plan a fun meal, grab your favourite beverage and use this guide to move past everyday conversations and into closer ones.

Download the Start Fighting for “WE” Couples Conversation Guide resource for free today.

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