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How couples can talk about money.

March 31, 2011

Even Homer is willing to give it a try.

Relationships are all about give and take. When my wife, Kerri, decides one day she does not like the color of a room and repaints it, I do not ask a lot of questions; I just accept it. Likewise, Kerri cuts me some slack when I spend a complete Saturday playing around on the computer. These are relatively harmless things in the whole scheme of things, but there are other, more serious topics couples find difficult to discuss, such as money.

Although it can be hard to talk about at times, money can cause problems in your relationship if you and your spouse are not open and honest with each other.

As I wrote in my column last week, we usually are attracted to people who are different than us. Savers are attracted to spenders and risk takers are attracted to security seekers. After couples get married they need to talk about these differences and come up with a unified plan.

If you have gone a long time without discussing money and problems have built up, it may be tough to find a place to start. Fortunately, Bethany and Scott Palmer, authors of “First Comes Love, Then Comes Money,” have come up with a plan for couples called the Money Dump and the Money Huddle.

Here is how it works: First, it is important for each spouse to gather his or her thoughts. The Money Dump gives each individual the chance to write his or her thoughts on paper, beginning with everything the couple does well financially. Usually even in the worst situation each spouse can find a few good things they as a couple are doing with their money.

After jotting down the good points, each spouse independently writes down the issues he or she has with the couple’s finances. There are two benefits to this. One, sometimes it can be very therapeutic just to get one’s feelings out there, even if no one every sees it.

There are millions of e-mails and letters written that were never sent, but they still helped people get something off their chest. Second, by writing down a whole list of problems it is easier to define one or two issues to address first.

It is a mistake for a couple to try to address all their problems at once. It can become too overwhelming. For any financial fix to work, a couple needs a little success to build momentum. With the list of issues, each spouse should pick a couple items to discuss. They should then set up a time to get together to talk. This is the second part of the plan after the Money Dump, called the Money Huddle. During the Money Huddle, each spouse should bring up the issues that concern him or her the most. By setting up a time and process a couple can start to work together to solve their problems.

When talking together it is important for couples to fight fair. There are a few keys to fighting fair. First, each partner needs to commit to making some changes. If one does not want to change it is just frustrating for the other partner. If there are serious problems and one spouse is not willing to listen or change, then the couple probably needs professional therapy.

There are a few other keys to fighting fair. Stay focused on the problem at hand. You should not bring past issues into the conversation. The conversation should also look for solutions, not be a blame game. Finally, each partner needs to know that the other one is going to make mistakes. Even when a couple starts to make progress, there probably will be setbacks. Be prepared for this so it does not derail the whole plan.

Sometimes financial problems can feel overwhelming. It also can be a difficult subject to talk about. It may seem easier to not even bring the topic up, especially if past conversations about money end in fights. Sweeping the problems under the rug will not help couples find solutions; it will just make the problem worse.

By having a plan and using the Money Dump and Money Huddle, couples who have never talked about money can start to communicate about their finances and work toward success together.

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