Every couple needs to discuss money, but it’s especially important for long distance couples. Why? Because not only can long distance relationships be pretty expensive, but it’s difficult to get an idea of whether you’re on the same page about finances when you live so far apart.
You can’t see how responsible (or otherwise) they are about money. You can’t see what struggles they might be going through. And since your lives are so separate, it’s hard to find ways to work towards your common goals.
So, how can you approach it?
Like any sensitive subject, it’s always better if you talk it out. But there is – of course – a right way and a wrong way. Here’s the right way!
1. Before you talk to them, figure out what you want to achieve
Before bringing up any serious subject, it helps to figure out exactly what you’re hoping the outcome will be. If you’re not clear on this, the conversation can meander – or worse, turn into an argument.
In this case, perhaps you want to find out:
- If your long term plans are aligned – for instance, do they want to own a house one day, or travel a lot? What about you?
- Their attitude about money – how much do they value saving? Investing? How flexible are these ideas?
- Whether they have debt and what their (and your) feelings are about debt
You may not be 100% clear what your own financial goals are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, talking these things through with a partner and experiencing what it’s really like to build a future together is often what leads to us developing sensible goals. But it doesn’t hurt to spend some time researching first and doing some thinking about what you want to achieve. If you get stuck, think about what your core values are. How will your financial goals support you being able to live those values to the fullest?
2. Introduce the subject slowly
Although you want to be honest and direct, I wouldn’t recommend saying “we need to talk” and then sitting down for a round of 20 questions with your partner. That’s just going to make them feel interrogated.
Introduce the subject of money slowly. There are plenty of natural ways to do this that will help you test the waters.
- Ask about their upbringing – were they worried about money when growing up?
- Use hypothetical scenarios – ask what they’d do if they won the lottery, for example, or whether they’d take a job in another country if it paid really well. This will give you a good idea of their values and where money fits into their life.
- How do they imagine their life in the future – for example, is there a place they’ve always wanted to live?
3. Create a safe space by opening up first
Talking about money can make people feel vulnerable, so your partner is more likely to open up if you do first. Think about a financial lesson you’ve learned in your life – there are bound to be plenty of mistakes you’ve learned from and times you’ve pulled through difficult situations. Share this with your partner and ask what they think.
Also, bear in mind that they might find this a difficult thing to discuss. For some (for instance, people who’ve experienced homelessness, or those who were expected to be the breadwinner of the family from a very young age), there can be some tension or even trauma associated with the subject of money. Be patient, be kind, and create a safe space for them to be honest with you.
4. Make it about the two of you
When you talk about anything that concerns your future together, always talk about the two of you as a unit. Use phrases like “us” and “we” instead of “me” and “you”. If it’s a very new relationship, you might not be comfortable implying such long-term commitments as family life or buying a house together, but you could speak about things in a more general sense. For example, do they see themselves owning a house one day, or do they prefer to rent and invest their savings?
A very good reason to speak about the subject as a joint effort is if one or both of you has some work to do to – e.g. debt to pay off, help budgeting from month to month, or even just figuring out your career path. Even if you’re the more responsible one and you want your partner to be more careful with money, don’t frame it as a problem that has to be fixed on their end. This quickly leads to a relationship where one of you feels patronised and things generally become unequal.
Instead, talk about what you can achieve as a couple.
5. Be a good example
It’s no good asking your partner to be good with money if you are not responsible yourself. So be a good role model and do all of the things you expect them to do.
6. Set small financial goals together
This might be the best tip! Not only having a shared money goal give you both a great idea of how you each handle finances, but it helps reinforce your status as a couple with common goals.
These don’t have to be enormous goals, but they should matter enough that you want to stick to them. For example:
- Saving for a vacation together
- Saving for your visits and doing special activities as a couple
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