Finances can affect all areas of life, even your personal relationships. That’s why we reached out to Dr. Konstantin Lukin, Founder and Clinical Director of the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy, to get his advice on how couples can better navigate managing their relationships and their finances.
Dr. Lukin has over 20 years of clinical experience and started the Lukin Center to inspire healthier communities through compassionate, evidence-based mental health treatment. He and his team believe in science-driven education and aim to provide trusted, accessible resources to their patients. Here’s what he has to say to couples navigating these issues.
Why is it important to discuss finances and financial goals with your partner?
Romantic relationships are a complex interpersonal dynamic of many factors composed of social, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, intimate, and financial factors. So it’s no surprise that if one of these factors is significantly neglected, the relationship suffers. Research suggests that financial hardship, lack of planning, and discord is one of the leading causes of unhappy relationships and often leads to divorce. Therefore, it is prudent, and, incumbent upon the couple to regularly discuss and plan for their financial health.
What is the best way to begin a conversation with your partner about your respective finances?
Setting a helpful mindset prior to starting a financial conversation is always important. I would encourage each partner to ask themselves the following questions:
- Accessible: Are you open minded and available at this time to have a financial conversation? And this doesn’t only mean timing wise, this means, are you able to lean in and dedicate attention to this part of your relationship?
- Responsive: Are you able to be responsive and attuned to your partner’s concerns and questions about your overall financial health?
- Engaged: Are you able to provide involvement and commitment to your overall financial wellbeing? Partners who are able and willing to commit to this internal tune up typically have less arguments and disagreements about any topic they tackle together.
Are there certain words or phrases you should avoid when discussing finances with your partner?
Here are the top five thinking traps to avoid, which typically lead to arguments.
- All or nothing
- Example: If your part of the budget is not perfect, then you have failed.
- Example: You are just terrible with money.
- Example: You overspent this month so you’ll always overspend.
- Example: You should never spend money on yourself.
- Example: I spend a little, while you always overspend.
Being mindful of one’s own internal talk can help figure out what communication habits to kick.
How frequently should you and your partner talk about your finances?
In couple’s therapy, we often discuss ways to maintain a strong emotional bond past our work together. We come up with internal check-ins, e.g., how strong is the felt sense of connection to my partner, and external check-ins, such as regular conversations about the status of the relationship. The frequency, however, depends on how far the individuals in the couple feel from each other on a regular basis. Similarly, I believe a couple needs to assess how far away from each other’s financial goals and strategies they are in order to determine the best frequency for check-ins.
You and your partner have created a budget for yourselves. What should you do if you notice your partner is having trouble sticking to that budget?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. I would strongly encourage the couple to set up regular check-in conversations in order to keep on track. This would allow for a natural amount of time and space to discuss and evaluate progress. However, deviations from a financial plan are not uncommon. In that case, I would encourage the partner to bring up a conversation using the DEAR method.
- (D)escribe: Report what you are seeing
Example: I am noticing our credit card is higher than usual.
- (E)xpress: Communicate how you feel
Example: I feel worried we are not staying on track
- (A)ssert: Say what you would like
Example: I would like for us to set up time to create or discuss our budget.
- (R)eward: Provide a reason why your partner would agree to your request
Example: I want to do this so that we can both feel good about our financial situation.
In this way, you are directly expressing 1) What you see, 2) How you feel, 3) What you’d like to see happen, and 4) Providing a reason for why your partner would consider your request.
Keep the lines of communication open
By following these best practices, you’ll be better prepared to have financial conversations with your partner and can develop a financial routine that works best for the both of you.