#RealMoneyTalk: How to Talk Through Financial Imbalance with Your S/O

Money & Relationships Young couple sitting on the bed and having a serious conversation about money.

For today’s #RealMoneyTalk, we are going to walk through a couple of ways that you can talk with your spouse, partner or significant other about financial imbalance in your relationship. Interpersonal relationships can be complicated (of course!) and money is one of the primary causes of disagreement between partners. Having a financial imbalance between partners can make it challenging to ensure that both partners are on the same page.

What Is Financial Imbalance And What Does It Mean?

Financial imbalance in a relationship is a term generally referred to when one partner in a relationship earns significantly more than the other. A financial imbalance can cause friction between the partners as they look to try and handle any shared finances. Many times we think of financial imbalance between partners who are married or cohabitating (since they have more shared financial obligations). However, even partners who are dating can experience financial imbalance when it comes to situations like who pays for dates or whether and how much they spend on gifts. 

How To Talk Through Financial Imbalance If You Make More Than Your Partner

If you are the one that makes more money than your partner, you’ll definitely want to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that you are “better” or “more important” than your partner. In cases where you find yourself thinking that your partner “owes you” something because you’re bringing in more money, my advice is to evaluate your thought process and rethink your position. If you continue thinking along those lines, you could be in for a rocky relationship. Net worth is not the same as individual worth, and if you succumb to the thinking that money is power, your relationship is unlikely to last very long.

How To Talk Through Financial Imbalance If Your Partner Makes More Than You

If you’re the person that makes less money than your partner, it’s important to have an honest conversation with your partner about roles and responsibilities. Don’t feel like you should be required to “make up” any difference in assets or income, but it IS important to have the conversation and make sure that you can come up with an arrangement that both partners feel is fair.

Also, take care to avoid the trap of viewing your partner’s take-home salary as “our” money but your own salary as “your” money. Talk through it with your partner and find a way to contribute in a manner that you can both agree on. A good way to approach it is to make sure that each partner also has their “own” money that is theirs to spend how they see fit. It may or may not be a completely equal amount, depending on circumstances, but it should be one that is fair to both sides.

A better approach is to calculate and catalog your shared short and long-term expenses, and then contribute to them in a proportional manner. If you make 70% of the total money and your partner makes 30%, then contribute to shared expenses in that proportion. While doing so, make sure that each partner still has money that they can consider as “theirs”. Decide on an expense threshold above which you agree to discuss purchases with each other but below which you trust each other to make wise financial decisions.

How To Approach Money

More than the financial imbalances of HOW MUCH money each partner in a relationship makes, I think it’s much more important to get on the same page on how to approach money. You’ll want to make sure that you’re both in rough agreement on things like how much to save, what amount of purchase constitutes something you should talk about before doing, and how to teach your kids about money. Ideally, you would have these conversations early on in your relationship. While disagreements about how to approach money would eliminate a potential partner, I believe it is true that if you disagree about how to approach money, it will take extra work to make your relationship successful.

#RealMoneyTalk – Be Open About Your Feelings

Whichever side of a financial imbalance you find yourself, it’s important to be open and honest with your partner about how you feel. I’m a firm believer that most hurt feelings in life come from unmet expectations. So if you and your spouse come into a relationship with different expectations about how to approach money and the imbalance, you’ll need to have that #RealMoneyTalk about both of your expectations, and be ready to compromise.

In my relationship, my wife and I have a 100% financial imbalance, in that we have decided that I will work full-time and make (almost) all the money, and she is a stay-at-home mom and homeschool teacher. She has expressed to me that at times she feels guilty about spending money when she doesn’t make any, and that is something that we are trying to work through. I firmly believe that even though I am the one who brings in all the money in our family, she and I are equal partners in deciding how the money is spent. 

The important thing, no matter what your relationship is with money or what kind of financial imbalance may exist in your relationship, is to openly share how you’re feeling with your partner. You’ll want to have the conversation early on in your relationship and then revisit it periodically, especially if income situations change.

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