Money in relationships can be complicated, and not just the numbers. Sharing incomes and expenses is one thing, but opening up about your money story – financial beliefs and behaviours – is another. Here’s how you can benefit from getting financially intimate with your partner.
What is your money story?
Each individual has their own money story, which is made up of a series of experiences around money. All of these cumulative experiences, right from early childhood up until today, contribute to our money story by developing into money beliefs that we hold onto.
Also by Emma Edwards:
These beliefs then inform certain behaviours around money, and can affect how we manage money throughout our lifetime.
For example, if you grew up with parents who fought over money, you may have certain ingrained beliefs that money divides people, that money is dangerous, or that talking about money causes conflict. As a result, you may be money avoidant, and struggle to deal with financial matters because of those deep fears you developed.
When a partner with an avoidant money relationship is faced with a partner with a more positive, secure relationship with money, miscommunications can lead to conflict or even power imbalances.
How can money stories impact relationships?
Serious long term relationships involve a degree of integration of your lives. You might buy a home together, decide to have children, go on holidays, maybe even start a business as a duo. Ultimately, you’ll pursue a life together.
Many life events that you may encounter with your partner can bring up parts of your money story that you might not have been aware were there.
Buying a home, for example, can be confronting for some people with unresolved fears around commitment, debt and risk. If your money story has been formed with memories of your parents’ messy divorce, but your partners’ money story has been formed on a much more stable upbringing, your perceptions of the process could clash.
It’s very common to seek financial clarity from a mortgage broker or a financial advisor to establish the black and white numbers. It’s less common to establish how you each perceive those numbers.
To one person, a $500,000 mortgage might not scare them at all. To another, it could bring up fears or concerns that can be traced back to significant moments in their lives.
How to uncover your money story with your partner
As with most things in relationships, communication is key. Talking about the practicalities of money is healthy – and talking about how you feel about money adds an extra layer of connection.
These questions can help you and your partner understand each other’s financial past, and be prepared to support one another as different aspects of your money stories arise throughout your relationship.
Here's a few questions you can ask yourself:
Did your parents fight about money? If yes, what was the context?
Did you or your family experience any financial adversities growing up? What was that like, and how did it impact you?
Was money scarce or abundant in your home? Do you remember any specific money memories that related to how much of it you were told your family had?
What were your first experiences of having your own money? Where did that come from? Was it gifted or earned?
Did you ever feel you were unfairly treated around money?
Which parent earned the most in your family?
Financial intimacy reduces conflict
Not only can discussing these things bring you and your partner closer, it can better prepare you for big financial decisions.
Factoring each other’s financial experience and emotions around money into decision making can reduce conflict down the line, and ensure both of you feel comfortable with taking those big steps as a couple.