Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to express your love and appreciation for your significant other. Some men believe flowers, Champagne or a dinner out shows that they care, yet often what women truly value in a relationship is intimacy. I have observed that men, in general, are open to both partners sharing their wants, needs, desires and vulnerabilities in the bedroom, but when it comes to sharing those same feelings and emotions when discussing finances, Romeos can turn into the money-equivalent of frigid.
The next time your wife wants to discuss the budget for new furniture, how many people to invite to your daughter’s wedding or how you will afford to send Johnny to college, think before you say, “I’m too tired.” How do you feel when you initiate sex and she says she’s too tired? Do you feel rejected, unappreciated or unloved? That’s how your wife might feel when she brings up money issues and you shut her down.
Money is never just about dollars and cents. Money is wrapped up with emotions — such as fear, insecurity, envy and guilt — and attitudes, such as control. Both genders can feel vulnerable when discussing finances. Discussing and resolving money challenges can increase the level of trust and intimacy in a relationship.
Financial Priorities and Feelings
As a financial adviser, I often meet with couples. I get to watch firsthand how they deal with competing priorities over the current and future use of investment money. The couples who disagree with each other –- but do so in a loving and respectful manner –- are the ones who have achieved financial intimacy.
I recall when a woman asked for a consultation with her and her husband. At the beginning of our meeting, I was impressed with how the husband had built up his 401(k), which I thought his wife would appreciate, considering she did not work and they had two young children.
Instead of focusing on how their investments were performing (which is what he wanted to discuss), she repeatedly asked how much they should devote to a nice vacation. Visibly annoyed and looking at her with disdain, he stated that they had recently moved into a larger house and that paying the mortgage and reducing income taxes by maxing out on the 401(k) were more important priorities than a vacation.
The woman clearly needed a vacation, but I wondered why they hadn’t discussed a budget before they decided to move into a larger house that would require a larger monthly payment. Both were frustrated and talking past each other. This couple had a lot of work to do with each other before working with a financial adviser.
Stop Judging and Start Listening
While we can’t expect to have exactly the same values and priorities as our partners, if we stop judging and start listening, we’ll have fewer arguments about money. I used to judge my husband’s spending habits until we openly discussed our feelings about money. His philosophy was that when he received a bonus at work, he’d reward himself by taking a ski trip or buying new electronics and saving just a portion of it. When I received a bonus at work, I’d invest the entire amount and spend none of it.
When he explained to me that he was prepared to reduce his spending on fun stuff should his income decline in a particular year, I was cynical. Yet when he left the corporate world to launch his own company, he did just that. He followed through, which solidified my trust in him. We don’t fight about money because we trust and respect each other. If there were a test, I bet we’d score in the top 10 percentile of couples regarding financial intimacy.
Four Tips to Improve Financial Intimacy
Here are four tips to improve your financial intimacy and your sexual intimacy at the same time. Believe me, when you don’t fight with your partner over money, your sex life can’t help but improve.
- Find common ground while embracing differences. Are you a saver and your spouse is a spender? There are emotional reasons why people fall into one category and not the other. Take the time to understand where your partner is coming from without judging. Why is she so frugal and unwilling to spend money? Why does buying a new car make him feel so exhilarated? Understand each other’s “wants” vs. “needs” and develop a budget you both can accept.
- Don’t keep secrets. Do you buy clothes or electronics and hide them from your partner or lie about the cost because you don’t want to fight? How is that any different than hiding a lover? Cheating is cheating, whether it’s love or money.
- Divide labor when managing money. One spouse might be more efficient at paying bills while the other more skilled at allocating the investments in the retirement accounts. Make a commitment to sharing equally in the responsibility and accountability for all decisions. Don’t leave your partner in the dark. If something happens to you, ensure that your partner can keep the lights on when you are gone.
- Discuss “what if’s.” What happens if the higher-income spouse loses his or her job? How will the other adapt spending habits in order to accommodate a loss of income? Will you sell the house? Raid the 401(k) or college savings account? Have a plan before unexpected events occur. The stress over an unwanted event is high. Fighting over money on top of that is unbearable.
So while you are planning a big date with your honey for Valentine’s Day, remember that monthly mini-date money discussions can go a long way in making every day feel like Valentine’s Day.