Love & Money with Joe Bavonese, PhD and Poonam Melwani, LMSW
With all of the red and pink heart shaped items popping up in the stores, it’s natural that we start thinking about Valentine’s day and what we will get for our partner or spouse. At Kennedy Financial Group, we think that the greatest thing you can give them is greater confidence when it comes to your finances.
Unfortunately, finances can be one of the biggest stressors in a relationship. According to a 2017 study conducted by Ramsey Solutions, money is the number one issue married couples fight about and 86% of couples who got married in the previous five years starting out in debt. Yikes.
With those statistics, it’s easy to want to avoid the topic all together but, that same study revealed that couples in healthy marriages are more likely to talk about financial dreams and set long-term financial goals. So, how do you balance discussing a difficult topic that causes stress while making your relationship the healthiest it can be? We called in experts – therapists who specialize in marital counseling, to be exact- to help us get some answers.
WHO ARE THE EXPERTS?
Joe Bavonese, PhD, is the Director of Metro-Detroit’s Relationship Institute. He’s been a Licensed Psychologist for 32 years and has been specializing in relationship issues for 26 years. Poonam Melwani, LMSW, works at Great Lakes Psychology Group in Sterling Heights. She’s been in the field for over five years working with adults, adolescents and couples struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, and communication.
Here are their tips for communicating with your spouse when it comes to money:
ADVICE FOR NEWLYWEDS
From your perspective, when you enter into a relationship and it is time to combine your finances, what are some best practices for starting that process?
Poonam Melwani: It’s important to keep in mind that each individual in a relationship is coming into the relationship with their own history of what they learned from their parents, their own expectations and habits, and their own financial goals. Sometimes couples agree but often there is some discrepancy. It’s important to talk about these differences so we can be aware of triggers or uncomfortable ideas around money. This prevents any personalization or guilt in spending habits.
I would recommend that clients set aside time to sit down and discuss their current income, budgets, current shared expenses, spending habits, debts, and possible concerns. It’s important that these conversations be had at a time where you both can provide your undivided attention. I highly recommend taking turns and using a compassionate, honest, and empathetic approach. As many people will have different habits and expectations, we do not want to criticize, shame, or judge their past or current styles. The goal is to be transparent and compromising while embracing your differences as well as seeing how these differences can be benefits in your relationship.
Is there any evidence that combining all of your finances is healthier for a relationship as opposed to keeping things separate?
Dr. Joe Bavonese: I’m not aware of any research on this topic, and it’s a complicated question which depends on many factors such as assets and debt prior to the relationship, age, and personality. But in our clinical experience, combining finances indicates a couple that is more emotionally intimate, securely attached, and vulnerable. It shows a couple who is living the saying “What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine.” There is a level of trust and mutuality in their financial lives, and they plan for the future as one “We”, not two “I’s”.
How do you recommend couples navigate differentiating between a personal preference for how money is spent vs. a hard boundary that the couple should follow?
Dr. Joe Bavonese: A hard boundary will almost always lead to resentment, which is the cancer that eats away at tenderness and love. Being flexible and coming up with a plan that honors different points of view will work better in the long run. Creating a budget together is a great exercise for couples to learn how to compromise and negotiate, and also agree on a format that they both have equal input on. And every budget should have a category for personal spending – so both partners have their own money to spend every month, and the other person cannot judge or comment on how they spend it.
ADVICE FOR ALL COUPLES
Do you have any tips for ways to reconnect after hard conversations around money?
Dr. Joe Bavonese: In this situation, excellent communication skills are essential. Avoiding blaming, listening to the other and expressing honest feelings are key. Here’s a sample with bad and good communication patterns:
Placing blame and not taking responsibility looks like:
“I can’t believe you put $1200 on your credit card when we’re trying to save for a down payment on a house. We’re never going to get there, and now I know you’ll never follow anything we agree on with money. You’re so selfish!”
“Oh yeah? Well I’m not the one going to the bar and buying drinks for all their friends during football games. You never let me spend any money on myself and I feel like I’m in prison. I work really hard and have to sneak everything I want. You’re such a control freak!”
Whereas, listening, sharing and taking responsibility looks like:
“I understand you’re really angry that I put all that money on my credit card. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that when we’re trying to save for the down payment. I’m just feeling really frustrated that I’m working 50 hours a week and with this tight budget we’re on, I can’t buy even a small thing for myself, and then I end up bingeing on purchases. I want to work with you to make our plans work. Please help me find a way to have a little money every week for myself.”
“I hear you. I’m sorry I got angry. That sounds really hard. But hiding our purchases seems to make everything worse. Why don’t we go over the numbers together and see if we can agree on how much each of us can spend a month, and still make progress toward our house.”
Similarly, what are some ways to STAY connected while working towards a large goal that is hard to reach?
Poonam Melwani: Individuals want their partners to be involved in their goals as it brings connection and a sense of “us” and togetherness. Remind each other what you hope to enjoy after achieving this goal and sometimes that is just seeing our partners happy.
Dr. Joe Bavonese: When the basic emotional attachment of the relationship is solid, couples have more patience to endure working toward a large goal that takes a long time to achieve. And that requires trust; affection; playfulness; open communication and sharing of honest feelings.
AVOID COMMON PITFALLS
Are there some pitfalls or issues that you see couples who are struggling with conversations around finances falling into frequently? How can those be avoided?
Dr. Joe Bavonese: The biggest pitfalls we see with conversations around finances is that people quickly fall into blaming the other instead of working to create solutions. We have worked with hundreds of couples in creating a budget together – and that has worked wonders in reducing financial conflicts. It brings a lot of issues to the surface and is great content for learning how to work together to achieve financial goals. And it really does significantly reduce resentments, because it’s hard to blame the other person when you are 50% responsible for the way money is handled every month.
Poonam Melwani: Some couples have financial check-in periodically and use date nights to discuss these difficult topics. This provides a calmer environment that allows for you to enjoy your partners company while also compromising. If you can also have a conversation initially with compassion and understanding, you are less likely going to need to reconnect after as you can both walk away feeling still connected. However, if the conversation does get heated, it’s important to take some time to relax on your own and then reconnect with an activity, such as watching TV, playing a game, going for a walk, or spending time with your children and/or pets.
BEST PRACTICES FOR HEALTHY CONVERSATIONS
What are some general best practices for healthy conversations around money?
Poonam Melwani: It is important that both partners play a role in the conversation even if one of the partners is not working. It’s important that both parties know that they can rely on each other for support financially and emotionally and can address any emergency or non-emergency needs. We want to make it normal to ask for help. Additionally, if one person is the primary income earner or the one making the higher income, does not mean they have more power or more of a say in the relationship. We must keep things equal and have an equal contribution in how finances are handled. If one person feels financially controlled, they can be at risk for on-going domestic violence concerns.
Ways to ensure you both have a voice and feel equal, again, is to do regular check-ins on finances and recognizing each other’s limits. Often, it’s not about the money but rather feeling safe, respected, and understood. When finances are causing stress, empathetic support, solutions, and compassionate compromise can be beneficial. It’s important that both parties discuss any behaviors that may affect long-term security and re-focus on the importance of achieving goals.
Dr. Joe Bavonese: Money is a very emotionally charged issue that often relates to control and power issues, and unconscious patterns learned in families of origin. As stated above, healthy conversations about money are no different than conversations about other emotional issues. Worst practices include blaming “You always…”; not listening; interrupting; judging; changing the subject and avoiding conversations when your partner wants to discuss finances.
Best practices include listening to understand; directly expressing feelings (“I feel” statements vs blaming); taking responsibility for your part in the decisions and actions around money; staying present and having regular conversations around money even when it’s difficult; and focusing on solutions instead of problems. If couples are not able to do this on their own, they should get help.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information about Dr. Joe Bavonese and the Relationship Institute visit www.relationship-institute.com. Poonam Melwani, LMSW, and the Great Lake Psychology Group can be found at (https://www.greatlakespsychologygroup.com/therapists/poonam-melwani/) or on Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/poonam-melwani-sterling-heights-mi/700721).
“The course of true love never did run smooth” – but that doesn’t have to be true when it comes to your finances.
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HighPoint Advisor Group and Kennedy Financial Group are separate entities from LPL Financial.
Dr. Joe Bavonese, Relationship Institute, Poonam Melwani, LMSW, and Great Lakes Psychology Group are not affiliated with LPL Financial, HighPoint Advisor Group or Kennedy Financial Group.
Steven Fronrath is solely an Investment Advisor Representative of HighPoint Advisor Group, and not affiliated with LPL Financial.
Dave Ramsey and SmartVestor are not affiliated with LPL Financial.
Any economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that any strategies promoted will be successful