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. Maybe that’s not you, but you simply wonder where your family finances are at, and chronically not knowing makes you nervous. Your spouse runs the business, and 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 financial decisions. It’s not that you’re not allowed to spend, but you want more of 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 over 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 bound 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 law insists 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;
- 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 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, since the dimensions of your well-being, including your financial well-being, are intertwined. If you don’t have financial alignment in your marriage, you’re more likely to have at least some degree of financial chaos.
A transition to a team approach takes time. How should you approach it? 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’s what I suggest if you’re starting from ground zero:
- 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 criticism 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 self-control muscles a workout.
- 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.
- Talk about your underlying values around money. 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?
- 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 Personal Finances for Dummies, or I was Broke, Now I’m Not by Joe Sangl, or the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsay, or Know Yourself, Know Your Money by Rachel Cruz.
- Have a second conversation about your values and your expectations. Examine both your expectations around money, and your short term and long term financial health. Are your expectations realistic or unrealistic?
- Make a shared financial plan with shared goal(s) that both of you can buy in to. Include a goal or two for the year. Maybe your goals will deal with your monthly budget, debt reduction and retirement savings.
- 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.
- Schedule a weekly financial check-in (15 min. or so) and a longer monthly meeting and prepare for it. Bring the records to your meeting so you can track your progress. Keep track of your progress on your annual goals.
- 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’d say the benefits far outweigh the investments we’ve made. “If I win, we lose” applies to your financial well-being, not just your peacemaking.
Challenge yourselves to grow closer by approaching your money as a team.
Do you have a strategy, tool or tip that helps you work as a team when it comes to your finances? I’d love to hear what works for you – leave a comment below.
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.