January 31, 2018
You’ve met someone. You’re falling in love or perhaps you’ve fallen in love. You decide to commit to one another and, if you are doing it consciously, then the inevitable uncomfortable conversation about money is fast approaching.
If you are in fantasy or denial, you might avoid this arduous conversation and then most likely end up in a therapist’s or doctor’s office, or divorced in a few years. Out of shame and guilt, people stay away from the money conversation, keeping the truth buried, but eventually it will rise to the surface. This is true for just about anyone and is not dependent on the amount of money you make.
I’ve coached several couples and money is always the main stressor in their relationships. Not only does it stress the relationship but it also wreaks havoc on the body, causing poor sleep, low sex drive, adrenal fatigue, etc. Stress can also lead to bad habits such as overeating, overdrinking, oversleeping, or even over-exercising, which oftentimes occurs as problems in the relationship but are just symptoms to the root cause, money.
Money reveals a lot about a person. It reveals one’s morals and values, fantasy life, and level of denial. It’s not surprising that money isn’t the first conversation most couples want to have when falling in love.
In fact, most courtship is built on a facade with money being the major culprit. Men overspend on dates to draw in a woman they desire and a woman will overspend on clothes and/or shoes to be desired. This can be true for same-sex relationships as well, depending on the roles each person has chosen to play.
So when is it a good time to talk money?
You can begin to reveal your attitude toward money as soon as you feel you want to deepen your relationship with your love interest. You can start by talking in general terms about your family of origin and how they spent and saved money, how you feel about debt, your views on retirement, did you pay for college? How did you feel about that? What do you hope to provide for children who may be in your future, etc.
It wasn’t that long ago I experienced the money talk with my partner. We’d only been dating a couple of months when he was headhunted for a job in Northern California and asked if I’d be open to going with him. I was open to it. When he interviewed, the company loved him and it all became very real, very fast.
It was time for a budget. His idea.
I’ll never forget the morning he brought it up. I was doing my bi-weekly hike up Runyon Canyon. It was a beautiful clear day. We were having our usual morning chat while he drove to work when he dropped the bomb, "How much are you able to contribute to the budget?”
The acid churned in my stomach as shame grasped my throat. Every one of my business decisions passed before my eyes. I thought I might fall off the mountain. I wished I’d fall off the mountain. Falling off the mountain would save me from my shame.
I stumbled over my words, “I don’t know. I’ll be in a new place and will have to mostly rebuild my business. I have a few clients that will continue with me but I won’t be able to do Circle, and I will need to figure out my Intensives. Maybe don’t put me in the budget until I get myself sorted out up there?” I cringed.
It would have been easier for me, in that moment, to get off the phone and possibly break up with him. This sounds drastic but the thought did pass my mind. I felt so unloveable and unworthy. Instead, I acknowledged the shame and shared it with him, “I feel so ashamed and vulnerable talking about this. I wish I could contribute $120,000 but I can’t.”
His response? “Thank you for being honest. I greatly appreciate your vulnerability.” His kind and loving response deepened our relationship.
When we are able to share honestly and from our most vulnerable place, we give our partners an opportunity to reveal who they are and if the relationship will grow or not.
Ask any married couple or divorced person and they will acknowledge that on some level marriage feels like a business so why not set up the business to succeed by cultivating honesty and vulnerability from the beginning?
How finances are set up in a relationship is deeply personal to each individual and couple but here are a few ideas on how to get started.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Even if it feels like you are about to die, be honest about how you perceive money. Are you a big spender? Are you in debt? Are you all about saving? Honesty is key because if you are not honest then you will begin to resent your own lies and project the resentment on to your partner.
How do you perceive each person’s role when it comes to money? Do you want equality? Do you want someone who will pay for everything? Do you want to pay for everything and not be questioned about your spending? Remember there is nothing wrong with any point of view. It’s just perception. Find someone who complements your perception.
Joint accounts? Individual accounts? Full transparency? Control of the money? Get curious about your partner's expectations and share your own.
What are you willing to compromise on? What are you willing to put up with that can’t be compromised? How much debt are you willing to accept from someone else? Are you willing to hand over all your money to another person? Are you willing to give up your financial freedom? Are you willing to sign a pre-nup? Are you willing to create a pre-nup?
Once you’ve said your peace about money, then acceptance and letting go are essential. For example, if you decide you can accept your boyfriend’s $10,000 debt, then you cannot use it against him in an argument or hold it over his head to blame him for not being able to afford a wedding, house or vacation.
I can’t think of anything less romantic than negotiating but it’s better to do it now than with lawyers over a divorce. If this means negotiating a pre-nup, than do it. Approach this aspect of the relationship as a business venture with clarity.
Relationships are tough enough so it makes sense to get as much financial peace of mind from the start. Even if you take into consideration all of the above, there will still be surprises and twists and turns as you go through life together. If you start your relationship with openness, kindness, honesty and vulnerability, you have a better chance of navigating those twists and turns together.