Love and Money: 5 Tips to Avoid Relationship Stress
Many couples break up because of money-related issues, which means it’s better to address them head-on at the beginning of a relationship. Money can ruin romance and partnerships — but it doesn’t have to! As long as both parties are mature and willing to work together, many issues are resolvable.
Step 1: Practice active listening.
Using statements such as “I feel,” you avoid putting your partner on the defensive. Talk over your financial hot buttons with your partner and see if you can switch from attack mode to understanding mode.
Step 2: Understand the role of stress in communication.
Reflect on the times that you and your partner have experienced stress in your lives together, including disagreements over finances, and compare the ways that each of you handles that stress. From the cognitive appraisal model perspective, adaptive coping methods are the key to reducing stress, so explore what you and your partner do that allow you to alleviate those painful feelings.
Step 3: Think about your own values regarding money.
In this step, you can take some unconventional steps to decide why you and your partner have such different views about money. Are you a cheapskate while your partner is a spendthrift? Do you equally care about wealth as a life goal? In the third week of the Kansas State training program, couples were asked to reflect on their earliest memories of money and then, literally, sculpt them with Play-doh. Your sculpture might look like a piggy bank (suggesting you value saving), but your partners like a fancy car (suggesting money should be spent on luxuries).
Then, partners drew “financial genograms” to represent the characteristics of family members going back at least two generations. Did your parents experience financial insecurity, and that’s what’s driving your own fears about overspending? Did your partner have parents who shopped at all the finest stores, regardless of cost? This step is perhaps the most important because it helps you understand how you enter into financial discussions based on your history and that of your parents (and perhaps even your grandparents).
Step 4: Imagine your own “financial legacy.”
What do you intend to leave behind—both for your own retirement and for the security of your children and grandchildren? Do you become anxious when you think about your future financial security? The group facilitator in the study led couples through a discussion of their emotions associated with thinking about their credit scores (such as fear or confidence), and the steps they might go through when they start retirement planning. You might not think of discussions about your pension as being particularly enthralling or even as having romantic connotations. However, once these ideas are out there, it should be clear that they can matter as much as your decisions about where to go on your next date night.
Step 5: Plan your budget.
From companies to governments to volunteer organisations, budgets are at the backbone of all future planning. You may be involved in budgeting decisions at work, or if not, you’re certainly affected by them. Why not bring this set of decisions into your own discussions at home? If you’ve stayed away from budget planning with your partner because the topic is too emotionally-charged, the Kansas State financial curriculum suggests it’s time to get out the pencil or spreadsheet and begin comparing revenues with expenses. The advantage of working on a budget, the researchers maintain, is that it forces a set of behavioural decisions that the two of you need to make. Those abstract family values about money that you inherited now become translated into steps that you and your partner can agree on moving forward in your own financial lives.
The outcome measures of financial stress are ones you can also apply at home with your partner. Using a scale of 1 to 100, rate (1) How much stress do you experience because of your financial situation? and (2) How much stress does your financial situation cause your relationship?
Although the sample was a relatively small one, this investigation of the benefits of a financial curriculum provided encouraging results both immediately after and three months following the end of the training. Couples who began the study with financial stress scores of 44 on that 1 to 100 scale ended the study with scores close to 36. Their relationship stress scores decreased by a comparable amount, from 38 to 30. Measures assessing happiness with finances, happiness with communication, and happiness with household responsibilities increased over the course of the study, but had bounced back down by the three month follow-up. Still, the stress scores remained low.
With its pre-post-only design, the Britt-Letter investigation clearly did not meet the requirements of an experiment, although the three month follow-up added at least a longer-term dimension than might otherwise be found in a study of this nature. The sample size was small, and relatively homogeneous in terms of demographics (i.e. the couples all were white). Nevertheless, the novel approach represented by the curriculum is one that should provide an useful springboard for future and better-controlled studies.
To sum up, money conversations don’t have to create relationship stress. Taking these steps, one at a time, can help you and your partner build stronger bonds to get you through those difficult conversations.
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