how to communicate with your spouse about finances

How To Communicate With Your Spouse About Finances

Two issues top the list of reasons couples divorce: infidelity, followed by finances. Knowing how to communicate with your spouse about finances, then, could do more than ensure the mortgage gets paid on time. It could actually save your marriage.

A survey by Ramsey Solutions found that nearly two-thirds of couples start their marriage in debt. Not surprisingly, the amount of debt paralleled the stress and tension in the marriage, as well as anxiety over discussing finances.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those with a positive perception of the quality of their marriage communicated regularly about finances; those with a less positive or negative perception rarely communicated about finances.

Are you confident that you know how to communicate with your spouse about finances? Are your conversations reactionary or visionary? Does the topic of finances come up primarily when there are big bills, budget pitfalls or overspending? Or do you and your spouse talk about your finances in the context of your dreams, feelings, and values?

Talking with your spouse about finances is less about a perfectly balanced checkbook and more about values.

If you want to keep your marriage strong and make it last, then talking about money is a must. You need to be on the same page when it comes to financial decisions, as you will both experience the consequences.

Couples are well-served when they discuss questions like: How important is financial security and what does it mean? How do you want to spend your money? What is your desired spending-to-saving ratio?

Admittedly, if either of you has made significant financial mistakes in the past, broaching the subject of money can make your skin crawl. It can take one unforeseen life event — or simply a poor decision — to challenge your financial stability for decades. Learning how to communicate with your spouse about finances now can save a lot of anguish later.

As you begin to talk about money, the primary thing to remember is that you are communicating with someone you love. While the practical aspect of your finances is essential, they will be more easily and faithfully executed if you care about your spouse and relationship first.

How did you each grow up? Did one of you grow up with privilege and ease, while the other wore hand-me-downs and worked from an early age? Did the parents of either of you argue about money? Were any of your parents miserly or extravagant with it?

These are extremely important questions that are power-packed beyond just setting up a budget. They carry a wealth of information into the emotions of both partners. They can reveal everything from deep-seated fears to lofty ambitions.

Learning how to communicate with your spouse about finances will teach you how to work cooperatively toward a common goal, even from different starting points.

When talking about money, begin by setting up a “money date.” In the above-mentioned Ramsey study, couples with the highest relationship satisfaction had weekly-to-daily discussions about money. It was built into their marriage.

Use common sense and courtesy when scheduling your discussions. Don’t schedule them at the end of a long workday or after paying a stack of bills. Decide what works for both of you and make it routine — monthly budget reviews, weekly spending recaps, savings plans, and the like. 

Acknowledge the emotions that arise when you talk about money. Your motive isn’t to tear into one another about spending habits, but to make sure you are on the same page and to set goals. At the heart of your collective relationship with money are the expectations and disappointments you each bring to the table. One person may feel overly burdened with earning responsibility, and consequently, may resent spending by the other person.

By exploring the formative issues ahead of time, you can come to a balanced perspective of your individual spend-vs.-save comfort zones. You will then be able to help set up one another and the relationship to succeed.

Money discussions are building blocks for problem-solving in your relationship. So make your relationship your top priority by listening with your heart, even while you’re working the spreadsheet with your brain.

If you expect your spouse to share honestly, you need to listen with undivided attention. Remember, you are listening for underlying emotions and clues to your spouse’s feelings about money.

Naturally, financial discussions begin with the nuts and bolts of spending, saving, and budget plans. Be sure to expand them to embrace desires, wishes, and dreams. These talks can provide a positive opportunity for problem-solving, and setting long-term goals with shorter-term steps to get there.

Ideally, a couple will commit to being on the same financial page before walking down the aisle. Few couples do this so the sooner you can start the better and it won’t hurt to do a fresh review even if you’ve been together for a while. That means being completely honest from the beginning. “No surprises” is a helpful mantra to adopt for these conversations.

What debts does each of you have? How are you going to work together to pay them off?

What are your assets? (Retirement, homes, cars, savings, investments, etc.) How will you join them?

What are your individual saving and spending habits? Again, understanding the reasons behind each person’s preferences will make communication much more effective and less guarded.

Finally, fess up about the ugly stuff. Things happen in life, but keeping them hidden is no way to enter into marriage or any committed relationship. Have there been bankruptcies? How much credit card debt do you each have? Are there any delinquencies?

If you’re not sure how to communicate with your spouse about finances, consider calling in the experts.

There are plenty of ways to gain insight into handling and discussing your finances. Depending on where your areas of difficulty lie, you may want to consider one-on-one or group counseling.

If listening to one another at a feeling level is a challenge, a few sessions with a marriage counselor may be a helpful first step. Having effective communication skills builds a solid foundation for your relationship and paves the way for successfully talking about money and resolving financial problems, setting goals, and making your dreams come true.

Money may talk, but how you choose to listen will determine its influence in your relationship. Stay ahead of the curve and protect your marriage by learning how to communicate with your spouse about finances.


We help couples broach the difficult conversations about money, iron out their differences, and create a practical framework for finances. If money problems are causing your marriage to flounder, it might be time to get some help. We can help you resolve your differences and learn how to communicate with your spouse about money. Contact us for a free consultation.

Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats