One word sums it up: disconnected. That's how most couples are with each other when it comes to their finances. I'm not talking about having separate bank accounts -- that's just a banking preference. What I am addressing is something much more profound: our inability to truly be honest with one another about our financial selves.
Deep down, our disconnection stems from being too scared to communicate with our spouses about finances. (And no, shouting doesn't constitute real communication!) We're so afraid of being judged or criticized for our spending habits that we clam up rather than discuss the subject.
So what can you do about it? How can you overcome the anxiety of talking about your finances with your loved one? What can you do to ease your partner's fears of being upfront with you? Here are four tips that will help you open the communication lines with your better half so you can create a team-like approach to your finances:
1. Keep your cool
If you discover unpleasant truths about your spouse's spending, it can be tempting to confront them right away. But don't ever say this: "I went through the credit card statements and can't believe you spend so much on stuff we don't even need!" Putting your partner on trial will only make them defensive, and highly unlikely to listen to any of your suggestions (even if your ideas are great). Instead, take some time to chill out. If you learn that your spouse is racking up the tally on your credit card, apply the 24-hour rule: Wait at least 24 hours before saying anything about the issue. This cooling off period will help you be more level-headed when you do approach your spouse, making it much more likely that your feedback will be heard and considered.
2. Come clean -- totally clean
It's tough to open up about your finances, especially if you've been secretly hiding some of your mistakes. But we all know that coming clean and getting everything off your chest is essential to moving forward with any endeavour -- especially finances. Remember, we all make mistakes. We're human. Bruce Lee used to say "Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them." Once you muster the strength to reveal your inner spending secrets, try to say something along the lines of: "I made a mistake. I'm sorry and hope you can forgive me. I want to change the way I handle finances." If your spouse senses your sincerity, it's very likely they'll do more than accept your apology -- they may return the favour by sharing their own spending secrets. By opening up and letting your partner see your vulnerable side, you can strengthen trust and create a sense of oneness.
3. Make a fresh start
Regardless of whether you or your partner did the buying, you should accept this fact: Money already spent is water under the bridge; it isn't coming back no matter how much you want it to. If you focus solely on financial blunders, you won't be able to move forward and identify positive next steps. Instead, empower yourself. Change your perception of yourself, or your spouse, from the villain of yesterday to the financial hero of tomorrow. Know that it is possible to take control. You and your spouse have the power to change the way you perceive and handle your finances. I know this firsthand; I used to be horrible with money, and now, not only have I cleaned up my own spending habits, but I've helped countless clients transform themselves from spender to saver, simply by changing their self-perceptions. I think author L. M. Montgomery put it best when she said "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"
4. Create a unifying budget
Once you're ready to develop a new budgeting strategy with your spouse, you're well one your way to a blissful financial partnership. But it's important that you choose the right strategy. Certain types of budgets can bring spouses closer, while others can drive them apart. You should avoid budgets that are stiff and rigid; they often make people feel like they're living in a dictatorship rather than a partnership. Tell your spouse what your financial priorities are, and be sure to listen to theirs. You and your spouse have to learn how to sit side by side, not across the table from each other. Keep in mind that there must be flexibility in budgeting, and that no one changes their financial behaviours overnight.
Here's a handy tip: Try inflating your budget for discretionary spending by 10% in the short-term (four to six weeks), so you can build commitment and achieve solidarity in the long-term. Budgeting can be a lot like learning to ride a bike; it takes a few scrapes and bruises to get good at it. Flexibility mixed with a pinch of patience and a dash of support will bring you and your spouse closer together and help ensure your financial success.
Reconnecting for your financial future
Clearing the lines of communication isn't always easy. But it's an essential step in building a solid, connected partnership. Be honest about your perceived financial failings, be willing to listen to your spouse, and remember that you can both change your spending perceptions - not to mention your spending habits - to become a stronger, more fiscally responsible team. Mattie Stepanek, the late American prodigy, poet and peacemaker, summed it up best when he said: "Unity is strength... When there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved."
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