Financial Literacy for Couples: Financial Therapy for When You Feel Unbalanced

Aug 04, 2022

Conversations about money can be uncomfortable. No one wants to feel judged by the amount of debt they have or the financial decisions they’ve made, but that doesn’t mean you should never talk about money with your spouse or partner. 


It is common for there to be a difference in financial literacy between two intimate partners. Sadly this means that the person that “knows” more about how money works takes a position of making decisions on behalf of the family.

On this surface, this has a logic to it. At deeper levels, this difference can have some adverse side effects. These side effects can include resentment, feeling unequal, and misunderstandings about why decisions are made the way they are. In the long run, if both partners don’t develop a shared basic level of financial literacy, it can be challenging to navigate life transitions, including changes in health, divorce, and death. 


4 Ways to Stop Feeling So Unequal

Questioning, Exploring, Asking for help, Learning. Taking these four actions can restore a sense of balance in your shared financial life together. 

  1. Questioning - Is the source of all personal growth and development. Do you have the freedom to ask questions about how money works? Many people put internal and external limits on what types of questions they can ask about money. Take this as permission to ask all your questions. 
  2. Exploring - Makes the topic more fun and interesting. What interests you about money? What would you like to know more about when it comes to how money works. Developing financial literacy is going to be an exploration for you. Put on your explorer's cap and start discovering what’s out there.
  3. Asking For Help - This is an act of vulnerability. You may have experienced in the past being judged overtly or covertly for your curiosity about money. Childhood curiosity about money often gets shut down.  What would make it safe for you to ask for help to learn a financial concept
  4. Learning - Pulling together the answers to your questions, exploring your financial topic of interest, and asking for help all lead to your new learnings. You can feel more empowered in your intimate relationship as you learn new financial concepts and ideas. 

Check-In Before Talking About Finances

To keep your money conversation balanced, first, be sure to check in with yourself and your partner. 


Do you have shared goals for this particular money conversation? 


What are your partner's goals if they are not the same goals? 


Conversation goals are an essential step to take before diving into specific numbers, experiences, or expectations. Using financial empathy to approach conversations together can give you a better chance of finding common ground between you. 


Recognize Arguments as Opportunities

If you find yourself getting into arguments about money with your partner who is (financially) less knowledgeable than you, take a step back and try to recognize it as an opportunity to show compassion, care, and curiosity. 


Most of us make many money decisions not based on external financial “facts” but personal preferences, psychological needs, and old money wounds. 


Let’s take a look at arguments over spending. The classic financial planning response is to say let’s get on a budget and stick to it. The budget response makes several assumptions. First that you know how to create a budget. If you have not had the chance to learn how to budget, then it is a skill you can learn. 


Yet, for many people creating and sticking to a budget is like creating a diet and sticking with it. It doesn’t happen no matter how much willpower or good intention they have.  


Your money arguments over spending often have psychological and relational layers that need to be worked through to make the long-lasting changes to spending you both desire. 


The partner who knows how to budget and stick with a budget wants their partner to get with the program. Still, they often miss how their financial anxiety creates an environment where their partner doesn’t want to join them in spending and budgeting conversations. 


The partner not participating in the budgeting process is tired of being nagged about getting on and staying with the budget. For them, it often means being able to practice financial empathy and curiosity with their partner about why they are experiencing so much financial anxiety. 

Focus on the Family and the Numbers

Differences in financial knowledge can be an opportunity to work through how you will handle and discuss differences in financial philosophies. Every couple has different needs and plans, which means each family will have a different look or needs. 

 Many of the couples I work with realize they want a different love and money legacy in their lives. When they reflect on what they saw in their families and with their parents and step-parents, they know deep in their bones there has to be a better way to navigate money in their lives. 


Recognize It Takes Time To Build Confidence

Most of us feel like we need to learn everything about a new topic as soon as possible. But Bloom's taxonomy, which helps explain learning and comprehension, describes an expected learning curve for new topics. 


Knowledge can be divided into three categories: knowledge you know (facts), the knowledge you know how to do (skill), and knowledge you know why you know it (comprehension). As you approach learning about money to build a greater balance in financial literacy, you will start to collect new facts and skills that will eventually emerge into comprehension. 


Not understanding compound interest is a big gap in financial literacy. I have worked with many couples where one person understood compound interest for investing, and the other did not. Often the partner that understood compound interest would feel frustration, fear, and disappointment with their partner when they would not listen to how their current family spending adversely impacts their ability to save adequately for retirement. 


Keep Having The Conversation

The first step in reducing the difference in financial literacy may not be getting the new financial knowledge but rather working on the health of your relationship.  Without a healthy relationship, there is often little motivation to make the financial changes needed to help the two of you accomplish your shared and different financial goals. 

If you are ready to take the next steps in closing the financial literacy gap in your relationship, it is by taking the journey towards financial intimacy. Learn more in The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy. Enrollment is open now through Friday, August 12th, 2022.

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