Having financial discussions with your partner can be overwhelming, especially if it’s a newish relationship or you need to discuss complex subjects like debt and estate planning. Starting conversations without both people being on the same page means that things can get heated quickly, especially if one of the partners isn’t expecting the discussion or feels defensive. It often seems easier just to avoid having difficult conversations altogether, except that problems won’t be solved if all you do is shy away from them.
Learning how to have difficult conversations can be just as important as the topic of the conversation itself. Listen to this week’s episode of the rich & REGULAR podcast about the money conversation you should have right now, and keep reading for some tips to prepare yourself before having difficult money conversations with loved ones.
Remember the golden rule
You may have heard about the golden rule—treating others the way you want to be treated. Approaching other people with kindness and empathy can be an excellent place to start when you need to have a tough money conversation with a partner or family member. Talking about a heavy subject like debt and making a plan to get away from it can feel stressful and scary, especially if you feel like the other person is judging you for the issues you face.
Instead of letting your emotions get the better of you, take a step back and breathe deeply. Remember that this person is someone you love, and settle yourself so that you can approach your discussion honestly and gently.
As you look to start a difficult conversation, consider the following:
Check your intentions
Starting a discussion about someone else’s finances isn’t always easy. Whether you’re the person in debt and need help or you’re worried about your partner’s finances, these conversations can be challenging. It’s essential to know your motivation before going into a talk to make sure you identify the correct problem.
If you’re genuinely concerned about a problem—for example, credit card debt or unchecked spending—it may be necessary to speak up. However, if you just don’t like how your partner handles their finances and it doesn’t affect your life, it may not be your business to bring up.
If it does impact your life, remember to understand your motivations before trying to figure out your partner’s.
Be sure the person you need to speak to is in a good place for the discussion. Waiting until your partner walks in the door or logs off the computer after a long day at work is probably not the best time to bring up a stressful subject.
Instead, schedule a time to sit down and talk together and let the other person know what the topic is in advance so they can prepare. Giving them time to acclimate to the idea will most likely make the discussion more productive and keep everyone on the same page.
Consider setting a date night vibe with a bottle of wine and soft lighting to help everyone relax. It may be easier to be vulnerable with someone if it doesn’t feel like you’re in a business meeting discussing spreadsheets.
Remember what you love about the other person
Even if you’re having a difficult conversation about debt or other financial issues, remember that this is a person that you love and care about. Instead of only thinking about the negatives of the situation, think about why you enjoy spending time with this person in the first place.
Think about what you love or admire about them. Maybe they have a can-do, take-charge attitude that helps you find the courage to start again. Or perhaps they are kind and generous and help you see the softer side of the world.
Remember that you are in a relationship with the whole person, not just the problems you face together.
Above all else, be sure to listen to your partner. You may have a clear idea about what needs to happen to fix the problematic situation, but remember that your partner is part of the discussion as well. Railroading or extreme ‘fixing’ is not developing a solution; it’s just masking another problem.
Make a concerted effort to give your partner space to express themselves and develop a mutually beneficial plan. Listen to what the other person is saying so that you truly understand what they’re experiencing instead of exclusively pushing your agenda.
Whether you’re bringing up a complicated topic with someone you love or someone is starting a discussion with you, try to remember to treat the other person with kindness so that they’ll hopefully do the same for you. Discussing money is hard, especially if it’s a newer relationship or you’ve had problems in the past. Remember to be gentle with each other and work together in a true partnership.