When you start a new relationship, there is no shortage of awkward ‘firsts’ among the more fun ones.
Like the first time you have a full-blown, door slamming fight, or the first time you ugly-cry in front of your other half. Then there’s the first time you’re subjected to the judging sets of eyes at the ‘meet the parents’ dinner, and the first time you bump into their ex getting coffee at your local cafe. I mean, seriously, of all the cafes in Sydney, they had to choose your favourite?
Awkward as they are, the older you grow the more you start to realise that all the ‘firsts’ – good and the great – are all special in their own unique way. Each ends up being part of the fabric of your partnership, and as you loop your metaphorical needle through that patchwork quilt, it inevitably pulls you closer together.
In my thirties, I’ve come to realise that each new relationship presents a chance to do the awkward ‘firsts’ better. I have a pretty acute memory of some earlier ‘first’ fails, and it motivates me to make those stitches a little cleaner the next time round, with no loose threads.
That all being said, there is one ‘first’ that still seems to catch most of us out, me included. The first money talk.
I’m not alone either. A survey from Policygenius revealed that 1 in 5 couples don’t talk about money – ever. Given the choice, it’s likely a good number of couples would rather share literal dirty laundry before they aired their personal finances and money hang-ups with their partner. Heck, they’d even rather talk about their weight.
While I’m not in the ‘never talk about it’ camp, the past me definitely classified money as the ‘awkward turtle’ of all those other firsts. I’ve been in relationships where I earn both more and less than my partner, and, when wrapped up in the delicate machismo that one often encounters in today’s male, especially as a stereotyped ‘career woman’, it’s just been easier to avoid the topic altogether.
Why is this? And when it comes to a new relationship in the future, what could I gain by flipping this narrative on its head?
The ‘why’ is fairly straight forward. Like it or not, money is an extension of our ego. Just as we attribute hair colour, intellect, body shape and personality as being responsible for attracting our partner, we simultaneously fear our money habits and opinions may repel them. This fear of rejection is often the reason we are most reluctant to share our money-side. As the research shows, some of us never do.
The thing is, as many long-term couples can attest to, not being open and vocal about your personal relationship with money is often a loose end that causes those stitches to unravel in the future. Sometimes beyond repair.
I don’t want that to be me, and I daresay you’d prefer that wasn’t you. So, whether your single, at the start of a new relationship or ready to reset in the one you’re in, why not consider the following perspectives when it comes to tackling the money talk head on and start shifting the narrative that’s been part of your life for way too long.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about difficult conversations, the ‘rip off the band-aid’ mentality helps significantly as a strategy. That is, instead of trying to artfully massage a conversation through nuanced meanings, or trying to explain your money ethos through indirect behaviour, just get blunt. It will be painful and inelegant in the beginning, but from there the conversations can only get easier, and markedly less painful.
As much as us single people hate to admit it, the reality is being in a couple gives you serious financial firepower, if you plan and strategise with intent.
Try framing your money conversations around you as a couple, and not about you as an individual. This depersonalises the issue and removes emotion – two key elements of having a productive chat. From there, sorting out your respective money issues is less about either of you being penalised or shamed, and more about working together to prepare that clean financial slate for your joint future. A problem shared is a problem halved, and goal setting as a couple along with mutual accountability will provide the momentum you need to get ahead.
If you take the time to strategise about other areas of your relationship - like living arrangements, meals, exercise, aligning schedules etc – then you’ll garner some good insights into your partner’s communication and issue management style. Once you add money onto that to-do list, it will feel less like a ‘big thing’, and just another chat among many.
One thing that has got me through many a tough work situation, or given me the bravery to ask questions when I don’t understand things, is a belief that most people are worried, scared or thinking the same thing, they just don’t articulate it. So if you’re thinking your partner’s carefully constructed life isn’t hiding any financial gremlins like yours, think again. Chances are they feel the same way about you. Remembering they are likely to be far from perfect will help ease the stress of sharing your own money habits sooner.
The magical thing about money is that it is a powerful energy source on which a partnership of two humans can build an amazing foundation, one that helps them achieve their shared lifestyle goals. You are both equal shareholders in this thing, and you bring different skills and qualities to the table. Don’t let your fear of talking about money let your other half, who only has 50% ownership in this thing, get to make 80% of the decisions. Rip of that band-aid and get stuck in this year with money chats – your bank balance and your emotional savings fund will both thank you for it!
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CEO and Co-Founder at Zuper Superannuation. Loves fintech, writing, pilates, Campari and sodas and, as of 2018, marathon running.