It’s no secret that Hollywood doesn’t really give us the whole story when it comes to real-life marriage and partnership. In the movies, you see spontaneous romance, serendipitous connection, and instantaneous love. You don’t see couples who have to work at their relationship. You don’t see main characters bickering over who has the right to the last few ounces of coffee in the pot, while screaming toddlers cling to their legs. And you definitely don’t see couples talking about money or budgets.
Because budgeting isn’t sexy. At least, not on the surface. If you want to really kill romance and zap all the steam out of a room, bring up the topic of money. Before you know it, you’re pointing fingers and tossing around accusations that don’t often lead to anything hot and spicy (unless your partner sleeping on the couch is a fantasy of yours).
Money is a tricky, tricky beast. It is so personal, with so very many emotions tied to it. Everyone has their own unique history with it, a history that gives it meaning and weight that no one else is privy to. We place judgment on folks who have (or don’t have) it, and we judge everyone – even ourselves – according to our ability to make, and manage, it. There is a lot of fear tied up with money, fear of not having it, or mismanaging it; fear of what it says about you if you aren’t able to get it. In our own ways, we’re all trying to keep up with the Joneses, and most of us are falling short, even by our own standards.
And this intense shit-storm of chaos creates quite a heavy, loaded situation when you give up a position of complete and total control over what happens to your money, and choose to be in a relationship with another living, breathing, imperfect human – a human who acts according to their own perspective when it comes to finances. If your partner spends more than you, they’re messing with your sense of safety and security. If they spend less, they’re cramping your style, and acting like a parent figure (ew). If one of you makes more than the other, there’s a tangible power imbalance that surfaces in odd places, like who gets to decide where the money goes, who earns more “Me” time away from the kids, and who gets to slack off a little more at home.
I’ll come clean here: my husband has always made more money than me, and it infuriates me on a regular basis. I sincerely hope to someday at least equal his income, or surpass it, but I realize that may bring with it a whole new wave of emotions and imbalances to explore (money is never without its complications). But despite our differing roles and responsibilities when it comes to breadwinning, my husband and I talk about our finances on a VERY regular basis. I’m talking weekly, if not daily.
It isn’t our absolute favorite subject, but we’ve grown to realize its necessity, and value to our relationship. You see, my husband and I have very big goals, both individually, and as a team. We share a vision of our future – experiences we want to share with our kids, and opportunities we want to give them. After failing multiple times to get on the same page, and after repeated frustration at falling short of goals we set for ourselves, we discovered that we simply won’t hit our targets unless we work together. We’ve each taken our turn walking the firey coals of humiliation and shame as we admit to the other about secret credit card debt. We’ve made plans to complete updates on our house, or buy a certain gadget or toy, and found ourselves too short on money because we lacked boundaries, or clear communication.
The process of learning to work together financially is just as much about creating a practical, realistic game plan as it is setting lofty goals. The dreaming and goal setting is the fun (dare I say sexy?) part, but without the road map to reach it, dreaming about it is as far as you’re going to go. You have to talk boundaries – what you will and won’t spend your money on. You have to talk safety precautions – how can you keep each other accountable when a shiny new financial temptation comes along? BECAUSE IT WILL. You will be tempted to spend your money on lots of things that are perfectly good and possibly healthy, but not exactly in line with where you want to go. Your mind will begin to toss around thoughts like, “Why should I deny myself this fun right now? I deserve it… I need a break…The kids will really enjoy this…” What will you do with these thoughts?
I know what you’re thinking: we could never talk about money like that- we’ll just fight. It’s not worth it. I get it. Money is sexy, but talking about it is decidedly NOT. You know what is super sexy? Dreaming together about future goals. Envisioning where you can go, what you can do. Imagining the thrill of making your life together as BIG as you want it to be. If you create a goal that’s big enough, and exciting enough, it can motivate you to change habits and behaviors that are currently muddying the waters. It can motivate you to confront unwanted behavior in each other, and in yourselves. It can bolster your resolve and replenish crucial compassion when you’re the one doing the confronting, and it can renew your supply of humility and patience when you are the offending party.
And the road ahead will still be frustrating. There will be setbacks and failures. Talking through difficult patches won’t immediately become more fun, or less awkward. But you’ll find yourself talking about it more often, and slowly, you’ll notice that your perspective really has shifted toward a team mentality. You’ll be quicker to remind yourself of your own shortcomings when you speak to your partner about theirs. You’ll encourage each other by reminding yourselves where you’re going, the dream you’re working to build. When you truly are on the same page about your finances, and cooperating together to reach higher heights than you ever imagined, you can worry less, diffuse some of that heavy fear about the future, and create space in your brain for other things.
And that, dear friends, is SUPER sexy.