What are the most important areas to talk about when it comes to love and money?
I was asked this question as a part of a panel discussion at the recent Financial Intimacy Conference in Los Angeles. Some of you would have loved the event, and some of you would have been way, way out of your comfort zone, preferring to keep the conversation about personal finance strictly focused on low risk topics of the head, not the heart. But the fact is that love and money have a lot to do with each other, and the better a couple can address them, the better the relationship.
I think there are four key areas to talk about when it comes to love and money: context, dreams, values and duties. Each area contributes to building an intimate relationship — and by intimate I simply mean a relationship where you can openly and comfortably discuss what you want in life and how to get it, instead of being frustrated, suppressed and ineffective.
I’ll talk about all four areas in a series of posts, and include some thought starter questions for you to use in your own relationship.
Context: Where do you come from?
Some guy named Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” And he was on to something when it comes to money. The family that you were raised in has a huge impact on how you think about and behave when it comes to money.
I had lunch with a colleague recently who talked about how formative her father’s bankruptcy was on how she handles her money as an adult. “All I ever took for lunch were spaghetti sandwiches,” she said. “My mother was totally embarrassed that we lived in a motor home and had no money for any extras. But it gave me the drive and discipline to ensure that my kids didn’t end up living in the same campground.”
Talking about your context for money — the one that is unique to you — is an important part of understanding where each of you is coming from in the relationship. So instead of ridiculing his habit of recycling Christmas wrapping paper, or her inability to pay her credit card on time, ask each other these questions:
What are your earliest memories about money and how did you feel?
What do you think these experiences taught you?
How are you like your parents in your behavior around money as an adult? How are you unlike them?
What works well about what you learned from your family about money? And what doesn’t work so well for you?
Sure, it would have been great if you had asked these questions early in your relationship — perhaps even when you were dating. But it isn’t too late to have the conversation now. I meet people all the time who have been married for years and have never asked these questions — but they are glad when they actually sit down and have the conversation.
Discussing your context for money isn’t about fixing or changing or negotiating anything — that can come later. It is simply about understanding where your partner is coming from and vice versa. Being in a relationship is tough as it is, so a little understanding can go a long way.