How to Change For Good with Money as a Couple

Mar 15, 2024
A man and a woman raising their arms in celebration on top of a mountain

If there is one guarantee in life, it’s that change is inevitable. As a couple, navigating your financial life —- goals, needs, desires, and hopes — will change and evolve throughout your relationship. Many couples think that to change their financial situation, they need to know more about how money works. This is true on one level, but on another level, they need to become curious about how humans grow and change. 


The groundbreaking scientific work of Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente examined over 400 approaches to therapy to find nine universal elements in human growth and development and the six stages of change we go through as humans. 


They argue (and I agree) that each couple has a unique combination of different change processes they need to engage in to achieve their long-term goals. As a couple, it is important to remember that you may both have similar or different change processes you need to engage in to develop the healthy relationship you want with each other and with money. 


With this in mind, take a deep breath and give yourself some self-compassion. Imagine how good it will feel to work through your financial issues and develop a financial plan that works for both of you. If you have been having a hard time imagining your financial future, you are not alone. It is hard to imagine ideal outcomes for thorny issues like a prenuptial agreement. separate accounts, or a joint bank account. 


Personal finances are just that — personal. Working through the difficult conversation you need to have can be aided by knowing there are many different approaches to change. 


9 Processes For Change as A Couple With Money


What is the problem you are actually trying to solve? Raising our level of consciousness can help us see that we may not be trying to solve the debate between joint and individual accounts or what to do with credit card debt and financial infidelity.

Rather, you may be trying to solve a relationship problem around trust and control in the relationship. Perhaps in a previous relationship, you had experiences where sharing money went sour and now you don’t want to have the same money issues show up. 


Fights over discretionary spending are common for couples. One person wants to do upgrades to the home and furnishings while the other wants to save more for retirement. By asking the question “Why is this important to you and how is it connected to your history and experiences?”, you can both raise your level of consciousness for why you want what you want.  


Social Liberation

Money is inherently social. Each person has stated and unstated roles, rules, and expectations about how we are supposed to engage with money. As we mature, heal, and grow, these particular views may no longer fit us. 


This leads people to both leave groups they once belonged to and search for new groups to connect with. As a couple, this process of change can be very disruptive. For instance, I chose to leave conservative Christianity to find more flexible approaches to life and money. This left many deep questions for my wife and me to contend with and challenged our change process. Others like Brittany Damico (who I got to interview on The Healthy Love and Money Podcast) left a company that no longer aligned with their personal values, which informed her financial values.


Emotional Arousal

Our emotions provide us with very valuable information about ourselves, others, and our environment. A lot has been written about the importance of developing emotional intelligence.


Therapists are famous for asking “How does that make you feel?” As cliche as it has become, there is deep science around the importance of emotion in human mental health and flourishing. As a couple, you have a shared financial history, and emotion colors the interpretation of what has happened between the two of you. Learning to navigate the emotions that come up around your particular financial situation and financial goals is an essential part of the change process.



Self-reevaluation allows both of you to continually course correct on the journey through life. What we once thought was the right way to approach the problem can change. In my marriage, I thought getting an MBA and CFP® would be the best way to help my family flourish financially with my wife’s dental career. 


There were many points of self-reevaluation where I had to realize that I tended to talk with my wife about the “right way” to manage money. However, I was missing how our different past experiences with financial struggles were coloring how we approached money management. There was a psychological level to this, not just a logical one. This realization has been one of my biggest self-reevaluations. 



This is one I hear a lot in the entrepreneurial community. You must commit to your goals for change. If you just hold yourself accountable enough and are disciplined enough, then you will succeed. There are kernels of truth in this, both for entrepreneurial success and investing success as a couple. 


Commitment can also help you as a couple to pay off debt and learn a better way to live and manage money. At the same time, if you only focus on commitment as part of your change process to address your financial concerns, you will get sidelined by other aspects of change. As an example, if you feel shame for having money, you are more likely to unconsciously self-sabotage your financial success, no matter your level of commitment. 



Countering is all about doing something different than you have in the past. Perhaps you always start yelling or raising your voice when you don’t get what you want or your partner criticizes your buying decisions. Maybe you're on the other side of the coin and you shrink or withdraw from difficult money conversations. 


Part of the change process is developing the ability to have honest conversations with love in your voice when talking about your financial life. For many couples, they don’t have first-hand experience with this, so they have to scaffold their way into it. Perhaps there is another part of their life they can talk lovingly with each other about. Using the power of their imagination, they start to transfer that loving feeling into their financial communication with each other. 


Environment Control

This can be looking at the financial media you consume. For instance, sensational investment shows like Jim Cramer can increase your financial anxiety that you aren’t doing money right. Or the problem could be one-click ordering on your Amazon account. Businesses are continuously trying to get you emotionally off-kilter and ready to spend money. 


Controlling your environment is not about not spending money or going to live in a hermitage somewhere. Withdrawing from life is a solution some take to the extreme to avoid financial influences. Rather, it is about learning how your particular environment shapes your saving, spending, and investment approaches. 



As a couple, this is a great way to make a positive change in your life. Perhaps you are saving for a down payment on a new home. Frame the new home as a reward for accomplishing your shared goal. 


There is not just one great way to reward yourself and each other. It is important to understand the meaning of receiving rewards. Many people (myself included) have felt like it’s not okay to reward oneself for accomplishments. There can be many sources of this feeling, including family or cultural experiences that communicate that celebrating your successes is not important or that it is prideful or arrogant. 


Developing a way where you as a couple and individually can enjoy the rewards of your changes will be hugely helpful in sustaining change. 


Helping Relationships

We are not Lone Rangers in the process of love and money change. We will need to enlist outside help. This may mean working with different therapists, financial planners, accountants, business coaches, or others. Each professional offers something different for your process of changing for good financially. 


You are also in an intimate relationship with each other. Creating a helping relationship in the process of change will be essential. Challenging our concepts of what it means to be helpful will make us more effective in our attempts to be helpful. 


One of the biggest errors I see is one partner who is trying to help is not accepting that what they are doing is not actually helpful. This often comes from a naive or misinformed concept of what is truly helpful in helping people change. 


Changing as a Couple With Money

Depending on where you are in the stages of change, you will read this list very differently. To read more about the stages of change people go through, check out this great blog post from the MI Center for Change. 


You may be feeling overwhelmed by the options and different directions to head. Or perhaps you feel relief and hope that there are many different ways to facilitate change. 


The good news is that in time, you will see that there are many paths to achieving your long-term goals. Being able to draw from different aspects of change as a couple will give you more freedom to change financial habits, find common ground, and develop honest communication about working on your finances together. 


Ready to take your process of change to the next level? Start The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy and claim 30% off with promo code BLOG30 at checkout. 


Does your relationship need a little help navigating the process of change? Then Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ is for the two of you. Schedule your free 30-minute consultation here


Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,

Ed Coambs


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