Talking about money can improve your relationship — and your cash flow
By Natalie StechysonFebruary 15, 2022
An expert shares five approaches for taking the stress out of couples' conversations about finances, budgeting and investing
This article was originally published in RBC Direct Investing’s Inspired Investor magazine.
My husband and I were one of those couples who shared everything. Well, almost everything. Our goals, family values and careers all aligned harmoniously, but attempts to discuss our finances always devolved into terrible arguments. So, we avoided the topic. Five years later, learning to talk about money, budgeting, saving and investing is something we’re still working on, and we’re not alone.
“Finances are one of the top topics couples seem to fight about in a repeating fashion. It’s one of those arguments that comes up over and over again,” says Carly Fleming, a Hamilton, Ont.-based registered psychotherapist and owner of Everwell Counselling.
Nearly half of recently married or engaged couples in an RBC poll said finances were one of the biggest stressors in their relationship. While the majority (88 per cent) of the 1,000 Canadians surveyed said having similar financial goals, habits and attitudes was important to their relationship’s long-term health, one-third still found it difficult to talk to their partner about finances or their own financial situations.
But, until a couple learns how to approach these conversations differently, they will continue to have the same conflicts, Fleming says.
“Over time, this can erode trust as well as satisfaction in the relationship.”
Many investors are familiar with the idea that a payoff takes time, commitment and a lot of work, but might find it hard to apply that same energy to their relationships when they face challenges. Fleming shared some tips for couples on how to put in the hard work so you can get on the same page.
Mark a money conversation in your calendar and think of it like a date… just slightly less romantic. Scheduling allows you to have these discussions at a time when you both feel calm and focused, Fleming says.
Come prepared with notes about your goals and share them at the beginning of your chat. Maybe you want to discuss a budget, and your partner would like to talk about your portfolio. Great — now you have an agenda! This will help you stay on track and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
“Structure gives a sense of safety where we really feel like we can dive in,” Fleming says.
Be emotionally aware
For the same reasons you’d want to avoid making emotional investing decisions, take note of the anger, stress or anxiety you may feel and do your best to stay level-headed. If your partner is the one losing their cool, try to hold onto some empathy for them, Fleming says. Even just recognizing internally that they’re struggling can help change the dynamic.
If the discussion derails, agree to take a short break and come back when you’re both calmed down, Fleming adds. Storming off has rarely ended well for anyone.
Re-visit your personal history
Realizing how childhood experiences with money can continue to trigger us as adults was an “A-ha!” moment for me and my husband. My family struggled more than his, for instance, and this contributed to my anger about the debt he brought into our marriage. Understanding how my experience contributed to my feelings of anxiety helped us work together on a budget that included debt repayment, a financial safety net and a long-term investing plan.
“Think of it as an individual journey,” Fleming says. “What messages am I carrying with me about abundance, or scarcity, or insecurity, and how are those things coming to the surface in my relationship when I try to make this financial plan with my partner?”
Play to each other’s strengths
You don’t have to contribute in the exact same way to contribute equally, Fleming points out. If one of you is more organized, put that person in charge of making payments or maintaining spreadsheets. If one of you is more comfortable with figures, put that person in charge of budgeting. Not only will this help reduce conflicts, but it gives each partner a sense of agency.
Take things slow
It’s OK if it takes a few different conversations to get comfortable talking about money, or to reach your intended goal. You don’t need to create a budget, savings plan or investment portfolio in one sitting. Do your research and learn more about the market — together.
“It’s really nice to take the pressure off and say ‘that doesn’t have to be done today. We can start the conversation today and see how it goes,'” Fleming said.
My relationship with money — and my husband — is much healthier these days. Learning how to calmly discuss our finances took time and effort, but we eventually ended our cycle of avoidance and anger. It’s also eased a lot of our anxiety to know we’re working together on common goals. Every couple’s dynamic and financial situation is unique, so keep these tips in mind, and see what works for you.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.