Talking about finances is difficult for many couples. Women in particular were persuaded that it was unromantic to discuss money. It is existential. Dani Parthum explains how couples can have an open and honest conversation about money.
By Dani Parthum
In addition to the question of who does what in the household and how the children are brought up, money is one of the most frequently disputed topics in relationships. That doesn’t hurt. We have not learned to address money aggressively in partnerships and to negotiate about it on an equal footing. We lack rituals, role models, a social consensus – and sometimes the right words.
Until the end of the 1970s, married women in the Federal Republic of Germany were financially incapacitated by the Civil Code. For example, they were not allowed to decide for themselves whether and to what extent they wanted to work. Husbands had the final say in earning money, dividing household income and managing family wealth – while wives had no say. We still find corresponding power imbalances today. Man represents his interests, woman subordinates herself. At least that’s how it was in Germany. It was different in the GDR; there, employment was a civic duty.
Speechlessness in relationship finances harbors considerable potential for conflict
Women have long lived self-determined lives, earn their own money and want to live partnerships and marriages on an equal footing – of course also financially. About 40 percent of women do not know what their partner’s income is. Various surveys paint a similar picture. Men in particular get annoyed when their partners spend money that they see as useless. And non-academic women in particular would not be able to make ends meet financially without their partners.
Couples are talking more and more openly about finances, but the previous distribution of power is often still at the table. For example, she finds it unfair that her partner insists on paying only half of the joint rent, even though he earns three times as much. A typical problem for couples is also how the fixed expenses are distributed – as a percentage of income or in a fixed ratio. Or she wants to save for her pension, but he uses the money for his hobbies. And when it comes to vacations, he insists on luxury, even though she only has money for the campsite. Another example: He moves into her condo and refuses to pay part of the rent even though she is still paying off the mortgage. Tenor: Why should I help you build wealth?
We underestimate the role of feelings and our socialization
What many underestimate: When we talk as a couple about expenses, leisure activities, wealth accumulation, buying a house, raising children, compensating for lost pension entitlements through family time – let’s only superficially talk about money. In fact, we exchange fears, desires, needs and longings and what we think is right and wrong and how we define our role in the partnership and see ourselves.
With this in mind, statements like, “Why should I help you build wealth?” get their true colors. This is another reason why it is so important to talk about financial matters in a relationship. Not only in order to live together in a self-determined and conscious way, but also because it allows us to get to know each other better.
Talking well about money as a couple – the Hamburg couples counselor Michael Mary has written a very helpful book about this. “Dear Money: From the Last Taboo Among Couples.”
17 tips for more money at the end of the month
Now how do you come together on the money?
Mainly through agreements! Make an appointment to talk, preferably over a meal at your favorite restaurant. Announce in advance what you would like to discuss so that your partner does not feel overwhelmed. Be open about your feelings about the financial situation that is weighing on you. What feelings it triggers and what you wish for. Most of the time we feel hurt, unappreciated, treated unfairly or afraid. Ask how your partner feels about it. Sharing feelings, desires and needs without prejudice or judgment is the key to a successful money talk.
Prepare arguments and solutions and back them up with numbers where possible. Calculate why splitting the rent in half when there is a large difference in income is not a good partnership. Or how much of a pension loss you lose when you take family time. Or how joint reserves can be built up. Many men can dock with numbers, understand the desire and are more open to changes.
The money shows what partnership we have
If one conversation is not enough, arrange to meet again. Insist on a new, clear agreement that corresponds to your values and desires. If the other person doesn’t stick to it or refuses to come up with a solution, you know where you stand.
Money talks belong at the kitchen table. They strengthen the relationship. Money shows which values guide us and what kind of partnership we have: an open one, built on understanding, support and friendship, or an arrangement with a power imbalance.
This article first appeared in the business magazine “Capital”, which, like the stern, belongs to RTL Germany.