It’s perfectly normal for couples to disagree—on living room decor, sports allegiances, Downton Abbey—but there’s one topic where discussions get downright toxic: money. One study from Utah State University suggests that partners who fight about money at least once per week are 30% more likely to divorce. Which is why every couple should go on a money date. Partners should set aside time to discuss their finances and goals in a setting where they each feel comfortable, says Karen Collacutt, a Money Coach based in Barrie, Ont. “As a society we’re in an ignore-and-panic cycle around money,” she says. “We often only deal with money when it feels like a problem, but money itself is neutral.” Here’s how to put the romance back in your relationship with some honest financial communication.
1. Turn off the TV
The worst thing you can do is talk about money while distracted, says Collacutt. So, pencil in a few hours away from other distractions—that includes the kids and the TV. If necessary, hire a babysitter and leave the house. Head for neutral territory—a favourite café or restaurant might work—anywhere the pair of you can free to express your concerns, wants and needs.
2. Set an agenda
To give your money date focus, each person should come prepared with a list of topic to discuss. Not sure where to start? Ask yourself what money situation concerns you most. This will usually prompt a longer list of discussion topics. Chances are you won’t get to everything, but the list will help you prioritize subjects that need the most attention.
3. More honey, less vinegar
At some point you’ll need to review your spending. This often turns into a blame game. “We layer all our junk on top of money—blame, shame, anger and frustration,” says Collacutt, “yet, our behaviour won’t change until we shift our mindset and that starts with examining what we spend our money on and why.” By keeping your focus on your own mistakes—instead of your partner’s—and on mutually agreed upon goals, you have a better chance of developing a team attitude when it comes to family finances.
OK. So the first date wasn’t so bad. You got through the tough budget stuff, set some goals and identified where you can change your own behaviour to help meet them. You’ve both agreed on a plan of action. Don’t stop there. If you make the money date a habit, says Collacutt, you establish a common language and knowledge that will help you and your family through the tougher money situations that can arise.
See MoneySense’s Guide to Love and Money to learn more.