I see many couples struggling with how to deal with money, what money means to each of them, and simply how to communicate about cash. The root issue around money can often be power: who holds the power, and who is getting what they want and need in the marriage and who is not. Money can also bring up issues of trust and fear.

Money is emotional, and money has value beyond just the currency, but it also relates to our history and how our families and parents dealt with money. With my couples, I always ask them about their memories about money and their parents. Did they have money or not? Were there fights about money when they were growing up? Were their parents savers or spenders? Getting an emotional inventory from childhood about money is key to understanding the couple’s current experience with money. It impacts so many aspects of our lives that couples are surprised when I make the connections between their past and their present in regards to finances.

Couples will not only need to communicate effectively about finances, but negotiate about them as well. For couples that are already on a rocky road when financial stress hits, it can be devastating for the marriage. When a couple is worried about paying their bills, it can be so frightening for both people that they can turn on each other rather than facing the crisis together as a team.

Through some of the most challenging times a couple may face, one way they cope can be for one person to be strong and confident while the other feels weak and scared. This can help emotionally balance the more emotional woes couples face, but this is not an effective way for couples to deal with fiscal problems. What we want most of all during a crisis is reassurance from our partner, but financial issues may require both people to face some ugly truths about their spending, their careers, or both. Financial problems require both partners to be strong and face what may seem to be a desperate situation at times with courage, fortitude, and calmness.

Communication Tips Around Cash

1) Do not wait until a crisis arises around finances to communicate about money.

2) Set aside a monthly or weekly time to discuss money (a relaxed environment, and not when children or other distractions are around).

3) Tell your partner about money and your upbringing and inquire about your spouse’s family money style.

4) Try to understand how your childhood experience of money may be interfering with your own current beliefs about finances.

Couples Need to Agree on How to Spend Money

1) Whether one spouse works or both earn money, viewing whatever money is earned as family income is vital to effectively managing money as a couple.

2) Disclose your income and major expenditures to each other.

3) Discuss large purchases with each other.

4) Never hide purchases from your partner.

5) Agree on an amount you each can spend without having to consult the other.

Family Financial Unity

1) Put down all income and expenses in writing. Once this happens, the facts are hard to ignore.

2) Create a family budget together.

3) Determine who will be responsible for what bills: Some couples prefer to put all money into an account and pay all expenses from that, while others prefer to divide up actual bills and pay for those bills from their own checking account.

4) Teamwork is key to getting a handle on finances, no matter how you actually separate cash.