Couple happily working on their finances because they've each discovered how to communicate with your spouse about money.

How To Communicate With Your Spouse About Money

It’s not about the money. It never is.
And if you’re wondering how to communicate with your spouse about money, this needs to be your mantra.

Funny thing about the green stuff — it’s at the root of so much consternation and discord. It makes the world go ‘round, and yet there’s never enough of it — even for those who have most of it.

And when it comes to marriage, no other topic causes more fighting. Money is also the second-leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity. A 2017 Divorce and Debt study by MagnifyMoney found that 21% of divorcees cited money as the cause of their divorces.

And the irony? The percentage was highest for those with the highest incomes and lowest for those with the lowest incomes.

What’s the message here? If you don’t want to be part of that fallout statistic, how do you handle the pragmatic reality of finances while protecting your marriage?

Learning how to communicate with your spouse about money can benefit your marriage in more ways than just financial ones. And the lessons are as much about what not to do as they are about what to do.

Financial expert and radio host Dave Ramsey talks about 7 mistakes couples make in how they communicate about and handle their finances.

  1. They keep separate bank accounts.

    If you’re going to put your marriage first in your life, you need to treat it as a non-negotiable partnership. It’s a whole, not a divided-up, color-coded pie chart.

    Keeping separate accounts and divvying up bills according to earning potential is a recipe for disaster. What happens when one person loses his/her job? Or a commission check doesn’t come in? And how do you plan for a life with mutual goals and integrated responsibilities?

    Are you spouses or roommates? In a marriage, it’s important that both spouses are jointly and equally involved in the finances.

  1. They disagree about their lifestyle.

    Simply put, your lifestyle needs to jive with your income. You may have big plans and indulgent dreams, but, as the saying goes, “wishing doesn’t make it so.”

  1. They let personal differences come between them.

    So one of you happy dances at the thought of crunching numbers, and the other gets starry-eyed dreaming up DIY projects. Finances don’t belong to one spouse while the other spouse assumes a passive, deferent role.

    You married one another for how your individual uniquenesses magically create a more vibrant whole. You balance one another. And both of your perspectives and insights are essential to the success of your finances and your marriage.

  1. They let salary differences come between them.

    Just because one person earns more than the other doesn’t mean that one is working harder than the other. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the one bringing in the big bucks should have more power in the relationship.

    You’re on the same team, hopefully doing work that you both love and excel in, even if one is a full-time parent or student.

  1. They commit financial unfaithfulness.

    There’s no excuse for sneaking behind your spouse’s back to open a personal account or credit card. If learning how to communicate with your spouse about money is your goal, complete honesty is imperative.

  1. They succumb to unrealistic and unmet expectations.

    No, you don’t have to drive a Tesla just because you got bumped to the C-suite.

  1. They let the kids run the show.

    And no, you aren’t obligated to break the bank to indulge your kids whenever they want something. Think about their own developing relationships with money, and help them develop a good work ethic while teaching them about the value of money.

How do you take these cautionary guidelines and implement them in a positive way in your financial conversations as a couple?

To borrow a little wisdom, always remember to keep the main thing the main thing. And that should be your marriage. Remember, it’s not about the money. It never is.

If it’s not about the money, what is it about?

Learning how to communicate with your spouse about money is really about learning how to communicate with your spouse. The emotions, the history, the dreams, the fears, the expectations and disappointments. Money, requisite as it is, is really just a mirror to you as individuals and as a couple.

If you can keep that in mind as you broach one of the most trepidatious topics in any relationship, you can actually use money to enrich your marriage.

Here are some tips for how to communicate with your spouse about money.

  • Reflect on your individual histories with money.

    When you consider how much personal history goes into creating the adult that enters into relationship with another, there’s reason to marvel. Think about when and how you and your spouse met. Did you meet in college? Online? On a blind date?

    However you came together, you came to your relationship from different worlds, different families, different life experiences. And yet, you knew you stood a greater chance of reaching your life potential and purpose by being together.

    It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that your experiences with and feelings about money may be very different.

    Did one of you come from a long line of inherited wealth while the other knew how to stretch food stamps over a month? Did one of you come from a strict home that imposed frugality and saving, despite having money for a more comfortable lifestyle? Did one of you grow up stashing every bit of birthday and Christmas cash in a safe place, just in case you had to fend for yourself?

    This component of understanding money is incredibly important to understanding how you both think about and behave around it. It’s one of the most powerful insights you will ever have into who your spouse is and how s/he thinks and feels. It will also speak volumes about what s/he needs from your relationship.

  • Acknowledge the emotions involved.

    Toyota created an interrogative method, now employed in many businesses, called the 5 whys. The purpose is to explore cause-and-effect relationships underlying a problem by asking “Why is that?” after each response. Eventually a root “aha” is reached and effective action can be taken.

    Looking at your financial communication as an exploration into why you both feel and act the way you do with regard to money will strengthen your bond.

    You may learn that your spouse feels overly burdened with financial responsibility. Or you may reveal that your childhood memories of never having enough are triggered when your spouse tightens the pursestrings. Perhaps your worries about having money for healthcare, children, or retirement underlie your frugality.

    The important thing is that you treat your spouse’s emotions around money as tenderly as you would want your own feelings treated.

  • Start the conversation off with goals.

    Money conversations don’t have to be all doom-and-gloom. They can actually be a very positive (even if occasionally stressful) step toward making your dreams come true.

  • Admit your own mistakes.

    If you’re the one initiating the conversation, take the leading role in admitting where your spending habits could use some improvement. If you’re carrying debt into your marriage, clear the air ahead of time. Either way, be transparent and complete, and make it safe for your spouse to do the same.

  • Listen without judgment.

    Once again, it’s not about the money. Money is just a vehicle and a reflection of your choices. Look your spouse in the eyes, hold her/his hand, don’t flinch with confessions, and affirm always the priority of your marriage.

  • Create goals and a plan to reach them.

    Boring as it may sound, getting out of debt can be an exciting prospect — especially if you do it as a team. Make a list of the must-do’s in addition to the want-to’s, then get to work devising a plan to accomplish them.

    Keep in mind all that you have learned about one another when exploring your histories and emotions, and be fair. There is always a way to come away gratified, even if you have to sacrifice for a while.

  • Do something romantic after your money conversations.

    Congratulate yourselves as a team for working through what can often be a difficult issue. You make a great team and deserve to celebrate by doing something special.

You will better know how to communicate with your spouse about money if you choose to approach the topic proactively and positively. By focusing on your dreams, values, and feelings, you can more easily avoid the reactivity that so often surrounds financial conversations.

Before you open the conversation, and as you approach each new step, remind yourself…it’s not about the money. It never is.

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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