Financial Intimacy Tips That Actually Work (Even for Those of Us With Trust Issues)
Talking about money with a partner can be a lot like assembling IKEA furniture; easy for some couples, but for others...not so much.
If you’re not in a partnership where money talk is effortless or you don’t yet know whether bringing financial intimacy into your relationship will go well, I bet you’re feeling some anxiety about how best to broach the subject. And if we’re honest, money is a topic that will come up a lot in any long-term relationship or partnership, so it’s an important lifestyle discussion to get right. But don’t let that intimidate you!
While opening up about our financial status, strengths, weaknesses, and habits can feel incredibly vulnerable, it shouldn’t come with pain, shame, or other negativity. It should feel freeing and ultimately bring you closer.
Let’s delve into some of the most-asked questions we get about financial intimacy, and some of our favorite solutions to help you feel much more comfortable with the idea of bringing more financial closeness and transparency to your relationship.
First Things First: The Dos and Don’ts of Financial Intimacy
Let’s start this off with a quick list of boundaries that every partnership needs when talking about money. You can always add your own boundaries (we’ll discuss this later), but as far as we’re concerned, these are the non-negotiables:
DO start with you. Get a good understanding of your own finances, your goals, your current situation, and what you feel are your strengths and weaknesses before discussing things openly with your partner. Ideally, they should do the same! This allows everyone to come in fresh, aware, and with no surprises. It also gives each person the ability to really come to terms with how they feel about their existing financial picture prior to bringing someone else into the frame.
DO give yourself grace. A lot of it. Not the best with money? Carrying debt? Feeling money shame? Trust me, you’re not even remotely alone in that. Most people, when asked, would not classify themselves as “good with money” if they really dug deep, and that’s okay. Money is hard to be “good at,” and everyone has to start from somewhere. As long as you’re actively engaged in bettering your habits and situation, you’re on the right path.
DO give your partner grace. Remember what we discussed above? If you don’t know much about your partner’s finances or financial upbringing, they could very well be carrying even more financial guilt or shame than you. You’re with your partner because you care about them and that means giving them the leeway to be vulnerable with you, especially when you want to create more openness in your relationship. Leave the (even accidental) judgment at the door and prepare to offer the same fairness to them that you’d expect them to offer you.
DO find the right time to discuss finances. Talking about deep money stuff too early or too late in a relationship can be just as tricky as choosing to talk about it after someone’s had a hard day and isn’t in the right mental space to have that talk. Choosing the right time can set you both up for success.
DO prepare. Have questions, negotiable or non-negotiable boundaries, and ideas handy! It’ll make the whole conversation go more smoothly, and it will show that you care about your mutual success.
DON’T jump to conclusions or get defensive. Assume the best intentions from your partner, and ask them to do the same for you. If a boundary needs to be discussed, do so!
DON’T let shame, guilt, or fear get in the way of progress. Remember that — as cliché as it sounds — you’re a team, and you’re in this for the overall success of your life together.
Start Things Off on the Right Foot
Believe it or not, the smaller things that naturally come about during the beginning of a relationship can either set you up for success or make things harder for you when it comes time to introduce a more intentional kind of financial intimacy.
Be sure to be honest about and comfortable with your boundaries. Not a pick-up-the-check-every-time kind of person? Ask to alternate, split, or work out another arrangement! This simple act of communication shows that you prioritize honesty and that you’re comfortable being open. It also makes it much easier to change the arrangement later if needed.
Additionally, if you prefer going out and spending on experiences but your partner would rather stay in and save while enjoying lower-cost activities, this is an important thing to know and work out from the start.
Feeling out each other’s comfort zone with spending vs. saving can happen early on without awkwardness as long as you’re each honest and non-judgmental.
So what if you’re already in a relationship and are ready to delve into a deeper level of financial intimacy? Let’s take that step, starting with you.
Begin With YOU
As we mentioned before, if you can’t have a frank conversation with yourself and any internal messaging holding you back from trust and success, you’ll have a hard time opening up to your partner with honesty.
Many of us come from a background of “money shame,” tough beginnings, financial murkiness, or just subconscious habits that seem to perpetuate themselves with each new generation. Whether you choose to continue that legacy is up to you, regardless of where you started.
You can decide to create a new legacy for yourself and, if you choose, for generations to come. No, it’s not easy, but take things in steps and before you know it you’ll be much farther down your chosen path than you realize.
It’s important to note that starting “fresh” often means working through a lot more than just financial trauma and emotions, so we often recommend seeking any additional help you think is best when it comes to breaking down any mental or emotional barriers that may be hindering your financial wellness. So many memories and even traumas can weave themselves into obstacles to our financial wellbeing, so feeling confident and comfortable with yourself is definitely step one to building financial intimacy with a partner.
Need help with the financial habits side of things? Let’s chat!
Quick Tip: Once you’ve taken a shameless, patient, self-supportive look at your current financial situation and boundaries, practice your financial intimacy thoughts on a friend you truly trust to offer you advice about your approach, sans-judgment.
How (and When) To Initiate “The Talk” About Money With Your Partner
First of all, don’t make it sound scary by calling it “a talk.” That will just cause each of you to start the discussion defensively. Instead, find ways to weave the conversation into your current goals or smaller discussions you’ve already had. Try:
“So when we were discussing __________ the other day, it made me realize we may have different views on ____________, and I’d love to hear more about how you approach it.”
“Since we’ve been discussing moving in together, I thought it might be good for us to be on the same page about how we’d share financial responsibilities prior to moving in that direction. Do you already have something in mind where household finances are concerned?”
“Money was always a touchy subject in my family, but I’m working really hard to overcome that. I’d love to get a feel for how you view money, and any goals that are important for you!”
Having follow-up questions handy is always a good idea, too. Here are a few ideas:
If you had the choice between saving every penny and living modestly or saving modestly or not at all and living a more plush life, which would you choose?
What do you envision when you think of retirement?
What are some money habits you’re working to un-learn?
What are you proudest of yourself for when it comes to money?
When you think of sharing finances with a partner, what does that look like to you? Do you believe in keeping money separate, in joint accounts, or some hybrid of the two?
I know you grew up with two working parents, while I grew up with a stay-at-home parent and one who earned an outside income. What did you like and dislike about that experience? What do you envision for yourself in that regard?
Once you’re feeling more prepared, it’s time to find a good time to initiate the discussion itself.
On a larger scale, you want to make sure this more in-depth conversation is had as part of deciding whether your partner is someone you’re comfortable sharing space and a lifestyle with long-term, and before you actually begin to share any financial responsibilities, such as a home, a pet, children, etc.
Once you’ve arrived at that point, do yourself a favor and be patient. Wait for a time when you’re both at ease, when you can easily take breaks from the conversation if needed, and when you both have the time to commit to the discussion if it lasts longer than you think it will. Hint: after a tough day at work is probably not the best option.
Quick Tip: Taking breaks is OKAY, and often a good idea. Money is a dense subject fraught with a lot of anticipation and sometimes anxiety, so don’t go into the conversation expecting to immediately feel 100% financially intimate with your partner. In fact, a healthy relationship should involve checking in about money regularly! Making finances a natural part of your ongoing dialogue as a couple can prevent awkwardness when it comes time to make big money decisions.
Balancing Financial Imbalance
It’s a fact of life that people rarely end up with a partner who is in the same financial place they are, so there will likely be imbalances that need to be addressed and supported in different ways.
If one partner makes more money than the other, do you want to still split bills 50/50? Or would you both prefer to work out a plan to cover bills proportionately according to income?
If one partner has more debt than the other and higher monthly bills to pay it off, how is that accounted for?
What does saving for retirement look like for the two of you, and how much will you each contribute to the lifestyle you envision sharing as retirees?
The answers to these and similar questions are highly dependent on your lifestyle, needs, and goals as a couple, and how open you can be with each other.
It’s also important to remember that your financial boundaries, goals, and arrangements will likely change as your relationship develops and your lives change!
Stay on Top on Financial Tune-Ups
Marriage, children, paying off debts, making new large purchases… all of these and many more situations can come up, and all should be discussed with equal frankness and fairness. Once you start the ball rolling with financial intimacy, it’s crucial to tend to it when needed, like a plant that needs pruning, watering, or repotting to accommodate growth! It sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s actually a really good way to think about the many changes you’ll go through as a couple and the financial adjustments that may need to be made along the way.
The Bottom Line on Building Lasting Financial Intimacy
There’s a reason money is one of the subjects most couples argue about at some point in their relationship, but it doesn’t have to be a lasting cause of stress, shame, frustration, or guilt. Starting strong with good communication, a willingness to be vulnerable, and a healthy dose of grace and curiosity instead of judgment can set you up for lasting success that binds you and your partner together instead of driving you apart. If after reading through our tips for creating and maintaining financial intimacy you’d like some additional support, we’d love to help! Reach out and we can discuss ways to set you both up for lasting success.