Money and marriage are both very personal matters, and I often share how important communication is to success in both realms on our Flourish Blog and in my Flourish Financially Podcast. You likely know that financial issues can lead to conflict in many relationships, and today I want to give you tools to overcome a particularly difficult challenge – a spouse who won’t communicate about money.
Get to the Root of the Problem
So, you have a spouse who won’t create a budget with you, set joint financial goals, or discuss a financial habit that needs to be changed… or maybe it’s a very unique money conversation they’re refusing to have with you. Regardless of the specifics of the non-communication, your first step is to find out the WHY behind it.
When there’s money tension in a relationship, there’s bound to be a root cause. Your spouse or partner might have underlying fears or anxieties about money, they may be haunted by past failures, feel they lack financial skills or knowledge, or even be hiding a financial secret. If money matters typically lead to disagreements, it might simply be a conflict-avoidance measure. Think seriously about what may be happening below the surface, then approach your spouse in a non-accusatory way to ask questions about their reluctance. Think of it as having a money conversation that isn’t about any financial specifics, but rather about your spouse or partner’s general feelings about money.
Here are a few general rules to follow to keep this conversation productive:
- Set a specific date and time so you can both feel prepared
- Use inclusive language
- Avoid placing blame
- Focus on your shared goals
- Listen carefully to your partner and don’t interrupt
- Remain calm
If you think it may be difficult for the two of you to follow the above suggestions, invite a third party to facilitate the conversation.
Highlight the Team Dynamic You’re Looking For
If you suspect you and your spouse have different ideas about spending and saving, organizing a budget, utilizing credit cards, or any number of other financial matters, first know that this is very common in relationships. You don’t need to have identical money values, habits, or goals to be successful. The truly important ingredient is a willingness to come together as a team. As you listen to your spouse’s thoughts and feelings about finances, respond in ways that position the two of you as a team, rather than in opposition to one another. Don’t play the blame game, and don’t focus on past mistakes.
For example, if your spouse admits to you that they don’t know how to build a budget or that they don’t understand investing, don’t make it a “them” problem. Don’t remind them about the investing book you got for them last Christmas – and which they failed to read – or rehash a personal finance “lecture” they never respond well to. Instead, suggest that the two of you work through the issue together by reading a book as a team, watching a video series, or sitting down together with a financial advisor to increase and enhance the knowledge you can use to move forward together.
Face Challenges Head-On
If you’ve been ignoring your spouse’s reluctance or refusal to talk about money, remember that the household harmony you think you’re preserving is only skin-deep. Under the surface, there are issues simmering that can harm both money and marriage matters.
For example, maybe your spouse or partner admits that they have always failed at following a budget because it just feels too hard. It creates anxiety and stress that they don’t want to face, and so you’ve been allowing them to check out from the conversation and spend however they like. Of course, this isn’t a solution to the underlying issue – you need a household budget, and two willing participants, to meet your goals and create financial security.
In a situation like this, make it your goal to identify a solution that makes it easier or less stressful for your spouse to participate. Money and marriage success requires teamwork, so you’ve got to find a way to bring your spouse to the table. In this budgeting example, perhaps instead of expecting your spouse to maintain spending limits in specific areas like eating out, entertainment, and discretionary spending, you identify one big number that they keep their spending below each month. You could even make it easier by switching to a cash budget.
Build on Your Approach Over Time (And Don’t Give Up!)
When you’re the more money-minded spouse, or you’re eager to solve all your money and marriage problems right away, remind yourself that patience is a virtue. Most likely, you’ll have to slowly build upon your spouse’s willingness to talk about money, take steps together, and tackle all the items on your financial to-do list. There might be times when it feels like you’re taking two steps forward, only to take three steps back. One or both of you may fall back into old patterns – playing the blame game, rehashing old arguments, or shutting down altogether.
Set yourself up for a course correction when this inevitably happens. Here are a few phrases you can both use when it feels like money and marriage matters are going off the rails:
- Let’s work together to get out of this situation.
- Let’s take a time-out and each jot down why we’re feeling so frustrated right now.
- Let’s think of a goal we know we share and brainstorm creative ideas to achieve it.
Come up with a reset plan that works for both of you, and use it as needed to remain headed in a positive direction as you tackle money and marriage together.
Money and Marriage: Is Your Spouse Avoiding Financial Conversations?
It can be quite frustrating to feel like the financial part of your relationship is one-sided. After all, money impacts every other facet of our lives, meaning your ongoing frustration can bleed into other areas of the relationship. Use the tips in this article to jump-start some forward momentum, and don’t underestimate the importance of talking about your Money Story with your spouse either.
And, if you found this article helpful, don’t forget to subscribe to my Flourish Financially Podcast where we tackle issues about financial communication, money, and emotions each week.