How to Discuss Finances With Your Partner: The 3 Questions

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eight Dates" by John Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman, et al.. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you and your partner split the bill? How do you discuss finances with your partner?

Money can be an awkward subject to discuss with your partner. But if you don’t have that conversation, you’ll never agree on who pays what or what your financial future should look like.

Keep reading to learn how to discuss finances with your partner, according to Eight Dates.

Bringing Up the Topic of Finances

Money is a frequent source of conflict in any relationship. The authors of Eight Dates explain that learning how to discuss finances with your partner, individual and collective, will help you get to know your partner better and more effectively anticipate and navigate areas of conflict related to money. The goal is to better understand your and your partner’s relationship with money and discuss how to build a healthy financial future together.

(Shortform note: One expert explains that conflict about money often stems from financial imbalance, or differences in earning and/or spending, in a couple. Financial imbalance isn’t inherently bad but can lead to a variety of conflicts, including feelings of guilt or resentment. Other issues that may arise include feelings of inadequacy if one partner is the primary earner or there’s a significant income difference between partners, an imbalance of power if one partner makes all the important financial decisions, or financial infidelity if one partner misleads the other about their finances, causing problems by undermining trust.)

Our relationship to money is complex, often rooted in our upbringing and deeply held values. Therefore, conflicts around money are rarely about specific spending or saving habits—they’re more often about the emotional significance we attribute to those behaviors. The goal of this date is to dig into each partner’s relationship to money.

(Shortform note: We begin to form a relationship with money at a young age. A University of Michigan study found that children as young as five had clear emotional responses to spending and saving money that impacted real-life spending behaviors. However, researchers found that children’s attitudes toward money weren’t necessarily reflective of their parents’.)

When beginning a conversation about your finances, start by asking questions to better understand what money means to you and your partner. For example, money might mean stability and safety for one person, but it might mean freedom and spontaneity for another. Avoid making sweeping generalizations about your or your partner’s relationship to money. It’s unhelpful to categorize one person as the cheapskate and another as the spendthrift. The key is to find the balance between the joyful opportunities and the solid foundation money can provide.

(Shortform note: One financial psychologist describes our attitudes toward money as “money scripts”—unconscious beliefs about money developed in childhood that drive adult financial decision-making. Three categories of money scripts can be particularly damaging—money avoidance, money status, and money worship. These belief patterns can predict poor financial choices and are linked to lower net worth, reduced income, and higher debt. The good news is that money scripts can be interrupted and changed. If you recognize that you have an unhealthy relationship to money, speak to a financial planner to identify and transform your money scripts.)

Use the following questions to help guide your conversation:

  1. What did you learn about money growing up?
  2. What makes you anxious when it comes to money?
  3. What do you hope for your (and our) financial future?

(Shortform note: You can take this conversation a step further by creating a family budget that aligns with your mutually agreed-upon vision for your financial future. Many financial blogs offer step-by-step advice on how to create a budget as a couple, including easy-to-use templates to get you started.)

How to Discuss Finances With Your Partner: The 3 Questions

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  • The secret to a strong, long-lasting relationship
  • Why you and your partner need to make time for weekly dates
  • The eight powerful dates and conversations to have at the start of a relationship

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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