Have a deeper problem with money? It might be time to see a money therapist

Alyssa Pry
Personal Finance Reporter

If you and your spouse are arguing over money, you’re not alone! Finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships, and 48% of couples admit to arguing over money. But instead of breaking out the sparring gloves, consider consulting a financial therapist.

Financial therapy focuses on people’s emotional relationship to money, and it’s becoming a more popular practice as people examine their money habits.

“People are understanding there’s a need to find out more about their relationship with money,” says Clare Dubé, a certified financial therapist. “I think the millennial generation is what’s bringing it around even more— they’re more open to experiences and digging deeper.”

As a financial therapist, Dubé helps couples get to the root of their financial issues. Instead of focusing on the actual dollar amounts of financial arguments, she pushes couples to understand the emotions and stories that drive their attitudes about money.  

“[Financial therapy] is working with clients to get to the deeper meaning of money. We attack the negative behaviors. It can not only change their relationship with money, but their overall well being,” she said.

Dubé shared her 5 tips for navigating a money talk with your spouse.

TIP 1: Set a date

“When I’m working with couples, my suggestion is to set up a financial date and time,” Dubé says.

Dubé says this doesn’t have to be a serious discussion—she suggests talking over coffee. The conversation is a way to open the lines of communication.

“Always start with talking about what really attracted you to the person. Bring it back to why you’re together in the first place,” she says.

Regularly checking in with each other can help make money discussions a normal part of your relationship. Don’t avoid starting the conversation, even if it’s difficult, Dubé says. 

“Why not have that discussion and see what kind of things you can work out. [You may] find those conflicts are really not as bad as what you’ve made it out to be.”

TIP 2: Find common ground

When you’re talking about finances, finding a common footing is the best way approach because that way you’ve got something to work from,” Dubé says. “Start off by just talking about what your values are—what’s important to you?”

Focusing on your values can help you realize what’s important in your relationship, she says.

“You’ve got to find what those common goals and values are so if you have discord or conflict, you can keep coming back to the things you do have in common,” she says.

TIP 3: Watch your words

Finances can be a difficult topic to discuss, so how you say something is just as important as what you say, Dubé says.

“If you’re saying to your significant other, ‘You never pay the bills, you never contribute,’ the more you say it, the more you’ll start to believe it,” Dubé says.

Words like “always” and “never” can put you or your partner on the defense, she says.

“Using those words can be very dramatic and very scary, and it can really put a damper on how you’re communicating.”

TIP 4: Put yourself in your partner’s shoes

Dubé says everyone has his or her own ideas about what money means.

“Money could mean freedom, it could mean control, it could mean independence and dependence, so it really depends on what stories we have and what we apply them to,” she says.

Understanding where your partner is coming from can help you work toward a common resolution, Dubé says.

“When you’re talking about finances with your significant other, there are two main things that you always need to keep in common, and that’s empathy and respect.”

TIP 5: Realize you both need to change

Fixing your financial issues isn’t one-sided, Dubé says. Both people will need to negotiate and change their habits in order to resolve financial arguments.

“If you just stay the same, the arguments are going to be the same—there’s no growth,” she says. “How can you negotiate something that works out for the two of you?”

“Remember, it isn’t about trying to change the other person,” Dubé continues. “You’re working on yourself and how you can be a better person—together.”

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