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How to Talk to Your Spouse about Money

I was asked on Twitter this morning by author Susan Kuhn Frost how to talk to your spouse about money. It's a great question. In a word: gently.

Prepare yourself for the discussion by counting your blessings. When we feel any lack of resources tightening its grip on us, it's so tempting to pass the fears off to someone else, instead of laying them to rest. But do you really want to tighten the grip of fear around your husband's or wife's neck? Your spouse surely shares whatever lack of resources you are feeling right now. Do you really want to add shame or blame to this?

So count your blessings. If your spouse were to disappear from your life tomorrow, would you really be at less risk? That's not what happened to me when my first husband died suddenly. All your debts, all your obligations, all your hopes are yours alone. All your underage children's debts and obligations and hopes are yours alone, too. If you are lucky enough to have someone sharing them with you for now, focus on how fortunate you are, and not on how much more you could have if he or she made different choices.

Even if your spouse brings in no money at all, count your blessings if there are chores you don't need to do on top of earning an income, or problems you don't need to solve for your children or your parents or your home. Write out each one on paper and take time to savor it. Then add every thing your spouse has done that makes you feel good or at least less stressed, because these are helping you make the money and the choices you need to make right now.

Don't talk about money until you've thought about how truly rich you are. It will change your voice and your body language. And these will change your spouse's brain chemistry. They will decide whether your spouse stays calm and free to think of creative responses or must answer in spite of a flood of chemicals whose very purpose is to narrow the range of options the brain will consider. Which options? Those that have worked repeatedly in the past in the face of a threat, which may include such gems as walking out of the room, calling you names, belittling you, or bursting into tears, all mastered while still way too young to think of anything better.

Start from a keen awareness of how rich you are because you have love in your life and a partner through tough times. If you do, the rest of the money conversation is just brainstorming with someone you admire, trust, and love. Be honest about what you seek, so when you disagree about strategies, the two of you can find third alternatives that satisfy both your goals.


This is very good advice. Another thing that's helped me and Kyeli is that when stressful money conversations are happening often, we set aside one time to talk about them and solve as many of the underlying issues as possible, so we only need to have one stressful conversation instead of many. And your advice can help it be less stressful.

Thanks, Pace, and congratulations on the publication of your new book, The Usual Error, about communicating with our partners.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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