How to talk money with your spouse


You vowed to stay together through richer and poorer, so why fight so much about money? Stacey Tisdale, author of The True Cost of Happiness, is here with practical advice on how to talk about money with your spouse.

How to talk money with your spouse

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus sometimes when it comes to talking about money. Different couples bring different attitudes about finances into a marriage based on the way they were brought up and what their values are. Here is advice on how to talk about money with your spouse in a productive way. 

  • Before trying to suggest ways to make things better when it comes to money and you relationship, you must evaluate where you both stand in terms of your financial roles and responsibilites.
  • There are three things working in everyone's choices of making and spending money to keep in mind when discusses money with your spouse:
  1. Background: How did your partner grow up? How was money valued in the family? Individuals whose parents grew up poor in the Great Depression, for example, commonly feel the need to save more than spend. 
  2. Social stigmas: Historically men have felt societal pressure to be the primary provider and protector for his family. Women might feel pressure to let men handle the finances. Conflict can arise when these limited roles simply do not fit in the real world.
  3. Self-perception: Understand how your spouse perceives themselves when it comes to handling money. What is okay for some, like accumulation of debt, is unacceptable for others. Some people charge away, counting on that elusive big payday, while others pinch their pennies. Do they consider themselves good or bad with money? 
  • Communicate what you value to your spouse and create mutual goals that you want to work toward together.
  • Men and women typically react to financial problems differently. When a woman hears there's a problem with money, her instinct may be to draw closer, to connect over the issue. A man may be thinking he's about to be blamed for not earning enough money, and run the other way. Money tends to bring out of the primitive nature of people.   

RON: I'm Ron Corning for and it has been called one of the leading causes of divorce and one of the most difficult things for couples to talk about--and we're not talking about sex, we're talking about money. Here to help us navigate the money minefield is financial reporter Stacey Tisdale, author of The True Cost of Happiness. It is the first thing that most people are going to think: we're talking about sex. Because it also might lead to divorce, it also might be difficult to talk about. But money really is up there right?

STACEY: I think people have an easier time talking about sex than money. Think about it. I've been in restaurants and overheard conversations about people talking about not themselves, but different aspects about sex. When was the last time you heard somebody talk about, oh I make this amount of money. Oh I spend this amount of money. It's such a taboo subject and that's why--you know people don't really have a model for talking about money. Their parents didn't do it. People don't do it in their workplace. So, I think it's really difficult. 

RON: So we bring all that baggage into a relationship and then inevitably issues of money are going to come up because as a couple you have financial goals you want to meet, number one.  You also have financial restrictions and needs that need to be met, so where do you start talking about it? And how do you talk about it? 

STACEY: Before people get to the money talk there's some things they need to do. I can remember my best intentioned, 'Honey we need to talk about our finances,' has sent my husband running for the exits. Or he's actually taken it as a call to arms. Before people get to the money talk they need to be honoring their spoken and unspoken agreements about money. She might be supposed to contribute $250 to the mortgage. He might be supposed to physically pay the bills each month. If you're not honoring those agreements, don't expect someone to take you seriously when you come to them with suggestions about how to make things better. You've already proven you can't keep your promises. 

RON: And if you haven't talked about it and you haven't really laid out together what each of you is responsible for then I would think some resentment builds and it builds and it builds and it's going to rear its ugly head in some other way. 

STACEY: Right and I think that one of the reasons people run into so much trouble when it comes to money is that they don't look at what people bring to the table. In all of my research I've found that there are three things that work in all of our choices of making and spending money. First, the early lessons we learned as children. My husband's parents grew up in the Great Depression: save, save, save. My parents grew up poor, black in the South. You know we're not going to let a lack of money keep us from getting what we want. How does that play out? He buys generic, I buy organic. There's also social messages at work in our behavior. Men might feel under pressure to live in a certain neighborhood. Women might feel that social stereotype to let men manage the money. There's also the ways in which we perceive ourselves. Oh I'm bad with money, Oh I'm going to have a big pay off one day, so you know I can go into debt. You have to understand we each is coming from as individuals. Once my husband and I really looked at that and realized the techniques I write about in my book, we were able to create goals together. We were able to see where the other is coming from. That allowed me to do what I really wanted to do, stay home with my little boy, freelance, and write a book.

RON: So you talk about here your upbringing, social pressures--what we haven't talked about here is hardwired differently men and women to deal with money.  It almost goes back to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. How does that show itself when it comes to money?

STACEY: It's a lot of the Mars/Venus thing. First of all women talk to connect; men need to feel connected to talk. So, you know, a man can't come to his wife with the you know, 'I want you to save more money,' if he hasn't paid her any attention in the past few days. Or a lot of conversations about money start when there's conflict. So connection wasn't there and has very little chance of being created. The second is that men and women really hear money issues differently. Women will hear any concern or conflict as a need to draw closer. Men hear concern or conflict as 'oh my goodness, I'm about to get blamed for something.' They really just hear things differently. 

RON: Or take it personally because they're hardwired to believe that they're the providers, the breadwinners, they need to always be providing support. 

STACEY: Absolutely that's probably one of the biggest things is that money really brings us back to our primitive nature. And as you mentioned, men are born believing that they need to financially provide and protect their family. Society still expects men to be the primary breadwinner in most cases. And women, what that means, is that they tend to look at how a man is providing for them to determine how much he cares about them. Even if they have a hard time admitting it, I know a lot of women who are still surprised if they go out on a date and the man asks them to contribute to the dinner bill. 

RON: Mm-hmm. 

STACEY: So this puts a lot of pressure on the financial aspect of the relationship. 

RON: Well one of the issues is bringing your financial history into the relationship and at which point you really come to understand what your compatibility is when it comes to money which is something we will talk about in part two. Stacey thank you for being here. Stacey Tisdale, author of The True Cost of Happiness. I'm Ron Corning with 

meet theexpert
  • Stacey Tisdale

    Stacey Tisdale Author, The True Cost of Happiness Stacey is the author of The True Cost of Happiness: the Real Story Behind Managing Your Money. She has also appeared on The Today Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show as an expert on the financial issues facing women. more about this expert »

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