Home > Personal Finance > How to Keep a Money Talk From Becoming a Money Fight

Comments 0 Comments

Talking about money with a partner can be difficult. Partly because if things are going great and everyone’s in harmony, there’s no urgency about it. And when you’re dreaming about what you’d do if you wins the lottery, nobody is seriously worried about what will happen if you don’t.

But when decisions need to be made, or when you’re concerned about your finances, there’s no getting around the need for a conversation. You’re probably already worried that what you hope will be a money discussion will turn into a money fight (more about that later).

And so you summon your courage and say, “We need to talk.” Personal finance expert and mediator Paula Langguth Ryan calls those four words “the worst way to begin a difficult money talk,” no matter how well-intentioned. Though the statement is simple and to the point, those words are so often used as a preface to bad news that your mate will almost certainly have a Pavlovian “fight or flight” response says Ryan.

But figuring out what to say to open a conversation isn’t easy either. And money fights, Ryan notes, aren’t really about money. They are much more about fear, she says. So, how do you begin the conversation? We got some general advice and some specific examples.

First the general advice:

“Something that ties the two parties together AND lets the other party know that the first person is sharing something that makes them feel vulnerable” is a better way to open the conversation, Ryan said in an email.

“Anytime you can bring the money talk around to the feelings and the fears … it’s a good thing, she said. “Avoid getting stuck on the positions people are taking and the stories we are telling about what our fears mean about us (you’re stingy, you never want to have fun, you’re breaking an agreement, you have put us in the position of losing the house).”

Delivering Scary News

headshot smiling with blank space on rightHere’s how that might look in practice. Let’s say your very unreasonable boss got the better of you and you quit (or were fired). How do you explain that to a spouse?

Ryan says family circumstances would make a lot of difference. If this were a second income that allowed for vacations or extra retirement savings or went for some other goal other than simply keeping the household afloat, it’s an easier conversation, because your mate is likely less afraid. It’s crucially important that the money problem be presented as a problem to be faced as a team. Here’s how Ryan might introduce the topic:

“My boss and I came to a mutual decision that it was best for me to leave my position. I know this is going to create some big financial changes for us, and I wanted to talk with you about what fears might be coming up for each of us so we can come up with a plan that works and makes both of us feel financially secure still. . .”

You acknowledge your own vulnerability, ask about your partner’s feelings, and then tie the two of you together against the problem. It’s still not a pleasant discussion but it’s a lot less likely to turn into mutual accusations. The goal is to create something you both want… in this case, a survival plan.

You’ll have to go into specifics, like a tighter budget, perhaps, or how you’ll manage debt with less income. Talking about how to protect your credit will likely be necessary, too, but it can be done with partners fighting the problem rather than each other, Ryan says.

But money talks or disagreements aren’t just for when there’s not enough of it. They can happen when there’s an unexpected bonus or inheritance and one person wants to take a monthlong “trip of a lifetime” and the other wants to finish paying off the mortgage before retirement. Ryan says the formula is the same. The feelings may be that one spouse sees money as a route to security and the other grew up unable to afford much and really, really wants to splurge. Creativity can help solve the problem, Ryan says — thinking way outside the box. And still, the goal is to create something that you both want.

Once More — With Feelings

It’s a good idea to explore where the feelings are coming from and where any fears or insecurities lie. Or where someone picked up a particular pattern. (Is it really important to have a latte every day? It might be … although if you recognize that it’s getting in the way of creating something both partners want, it may be easier to cut back.) “You have to recognize they’re not doing something to irritate you — it’s just a habit,” says Ryan.

Another thing couples should do together is check their free credit reports, which they can do once a year. They can also check their credit scores, which are free every month on Credit.com. First, it’s important to be sure credit reports are correct, because credit scores are derived from information in credit reports. Second, understanding where you are can help you decide where you want to go and make a plan to get there.

What’s most important is working together despite differences. And if by “we need to talk,” you’re really thinking “I need to talk, and you need to listen,” it’s important to figure out how you — yes, financially responsible, careful-with-credit you — might be contributing to the problem.

Consider a newly married couple who open a joint checking account together. She doesn’t always pay full balances on credit cards and makes liberal use of ATMs. He pays bills in full the day they arrive and rarely carries much cash. You can imagine how quickly they will need to talk. But the talk isn’t, “You have got to stop using ATMs without telling me!” It is: “I just realized you are taking money out, and I pay the bills as soon as they arrive — now we have a problem.” And then asking for your spouse’s help in solving it.

He just might find out why it feels so important for her to carry cash, and she might gain a new understanding of how determined he is to avoid debt and late fees — because he came from a home where finances were chaotic and he craves stability now. But if one of them starts the conversation with “we need to talk,” it could take a whole lot longer to find out.

More on Managing Debt:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team