Finance & Money
Finance & Money
Change the Rules of the Financial Game in Your Relationship
You delegated the financials to your partner. Now you want to share responsibility. Here's how to get there
Your best friend’s husband just died unexpectedly, and you see she is overwhelmed with grief and fear. Not only is she dealing with the loss of her partner and friend, but she has discovered that he did not have a will, nor had he put her name on all of the investment accounts. The life insurance was not paid up.
Like you, your best friend managed the household bills and spending. She works full time and brings in a great income. But here’s the rub: some time ago, she delegated total management of investments and life insurance to her husband… Hey, she was handling the kids’ doctors, schooling, tutors, playdates, and all the other tasks of parenthood; yes, the division was fairly old-fashioned — but it worked. When her husband died suddenly from a heart attack, she realized that though they were in a loving, supportive relationship, he had not done all she had expected to protect her in his absence. Your friend’s husband always reassured her that everything was fine, but she didn’t uncover his errors until it was too late.
While you support your friend through her time of grief, you realize you need to start rethinking how you’re handling money yourself. A nagging voice in the back of your head is telling you it is time to change things up with your partner and your money.
What you are really looking for but may not have the words to describe yet is “financial transparency” and “financial intimacy.” You want more of both.
How couples handle — and interact around — money is one of the most challenging and potentially relationship destroying topics. First you will need to understand how you got to this division of labor. It will require you take a long look in the mirror and uncover the patterns of connection and disconnection that represent what we couples therapists call “attachment styles.”
Over years of working with couples with a focus on just this topic — the intersection of money and love — I have come to understand and respect how deeply intertwined a couples’ mental health, relationship health, and financial health can be.
Let’s explore what’s likely happening in your relationship with your partner and money.
So You’re Ready to Rethink the Handling of Your Family Finances
At this point in your life and career, it is easier for you to shift gears into a take-charge stance and understand the bigger picture of your family finances. The question is: how do you approach the subject with your partner now — after 5, 10, 20 or more years — of delegating it? How do you keep from alienating your partner?
If you’ve been married for some time, you have developed a pattern more unspoken than spoken about who is responsible for what in your financial world. You want to consider how gender roles are shaping your expectations of who does what with your money, and while that is important, there are other psychological factors to consider.
This is where attachment style comes in.
How Your Attachment Style Influences Distribution of Labor in Your Relationship
Your attachment style is a large part of how you and your partner experience your intimate partnership, and was formed in large part through your childhood experiences of caregiving.
You can think of your attachment style as the invisible road map in your mind that tells you how to proceed in your intimate relationships.
There is over seven decades of research exploring this part of human behavior, and there is a lot to understand. But let’s take one step at a time.
Before I lose you in the attachment discussion, I would like you to know that when it comes to changing money dynamics, it is often more complicated than just having one conversation about it.
I wish this wasn’t the case, but years of working with couples about their money issues has taught me otherwise. If it was as easy as just asking for change, I would have to find another line of work!
First let’s look at what type of attachment styles you and your partner might have. Here are the four types; which one are you?
Secure – You generally feel close and safe in your intimate relationship and have a positive view of both yourself and your partner.
Anxious – You generally feel anxious and uncertain about whether your partner really understands and accepts you. You have a more negative view of yourself and a positive view of your partner.
Avoidant – You generally feel distant and disconnected from your partner. You have a more positive view of yourself, and a negative view of your partner (even if you don’t say it).
Disorganized – You feel a lot of distress in close relationships and it is hard to trust that both you and your partner can really show up and care for each other. You have a negative view of both yourself and your partner.
Identifying both your own and your partner’s attachment styles will set things up for you to know how to approach these new money conversations you know you need to have. With each attachment style, there are different ways to approach talking with your partner.
Remember: it is not about changing your partner. This is about being able to successfully engage them in this important conversation.
How to Make Money a Happily Shared Responsibility
Moving your financial life to open and shared financial responsibility is a journey that is dynamic and complex. Dynamic because things are always changing, and complex because there are multiple pieces in every couple’s financial life.
Remember, the big idea you want to introduce to your partner is the concept of financial intimacy. Financial intimacy is the ability to share in all aspects of your financial life together. There is safety and security for both partners in your roles and responsibilities around money. In a healthy relationship partners know how to help each other work through their fears and concerns as well as spend time exploring and pursuing their hopes and dreams.. Financial intimacy is focused on mutual pleasure around your shared financial life.
Let’s say your partner’s attachment style is…
Start the conversation this way: “Honey, you know how Samantha’s husband died unexpectedly and she is finding out that their financial situation isn’t in as good shape as she thought. I would really like to sit down with you and review our finances together. When is a good time that we could do this together?”
Start the conversation this way: “Honey, I know you have been managing the investments and insurance for us. I appreciate it. I am feeling nervous about our finances, and that can be hard for you to navigate. Even if things are not as good as you might like them to be, I would like to know what’s happening in our investments and insurance.”
Start the conversation this way: “Honey, you have taken on managing the investments and insurance. You have gotten frustrated with me in the past for not understanding how all the numbers work. You have even been angry when I get emotional about our finances. I want to find a way that we can look at our numbers together. Can you help me with that?”
“Start the conversation this way: “Honey, our roles and responsibilities around money have been difficult for both of us to navigate. I know it is hard for both of us to trust each other at times, and yet somehow we want this to work out. Can we start to explore what we are doing with our money together?”
Building a life together as a couple can be both so rewarding and challenging. Making changes to the way that money gets handled in your home will likely take some time. Remembering that our relationship with ourselves, our partners, and money has more moving pieces than meets the eye. Taking the time to start learning more about relationship bonding and attachment styles will give you greater insight into why you likely get stuck communicating with your partner about money.
If you are not able to figure it out on your own, there is a growing group of professionals called financial therapists who have training in both financial planning and counseling to help individuals, couples, and families navigate the full range of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationship dynamics that come up around money.
Ed Coambs MBA, MA, MS, CFT®, CFT-I™ is a couples therapist specializing in Financial Therapy. He is also the author of The Healthy Love & Money Way: How The Four Attachment Styles Impact Your Financial Well-Being. Follow him on Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Facebook.