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Have that money talk -- for better, not worse

Just got engaged? Congratulations! While you're making those exciting plans for your new life together, be sure to discuss the ever so unromantic, but important, issue of your financial merger.

"Money is such an emotionally loaded topic that few couples discuss it directly," says Olivia Mellan, psychotherapist and author of "Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Relationships."

"Yet money, more than sex, is what drives partners apart," she says.

When should the money talks begin? Get started before the wedding, not after, advises Stewart H. Welch, a certified financial planner and author of "10 Minute Guide to Personal Finance for Newlyweds."

"If you want to start your marriage on the right foot with your eyes wide open, you have to talk about money and your financial future," says Welch.

"But few of us were ever provided with good examples of how to talk about money. Even in the 21st century money is still a taboo subject. You don't hear it talked about in schools or in the family," he says.

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Most of us have trouble talking about money because money usually represents so much more than dollars and cents, say the experts.

"Money is tied up with our deepest emotional needs: for love, power, security, independence, control and self worth. And since so many of us are unaware of the emotional load that money carries, we fight about it without understanding what the battles are about or how to settle them," says Mellan.

Opposites attract in money, too
"When it comes to money, tightwads marry spendthrifts, worriers marry avoiders, and planners marry dreamers," says Mellan.

"Even when opposites don't attract, they will eventually be created. If two spenders marry, for example, they will fight with each other for the super-spender role.

"If couples don't talk about money before they marry, you don't know if you're tying yourself to an over-spender in debt or a worrier who could drive you crazy," she says.

Money issues are different from other issues in relationships. They're harder to talk about and harder to resolve.

"The most important thing is empathy -- try to put yourself in your partner's place," says Mellan. "It's almost more important to be heard and understood than to have a partner agree with what you say."

Set the stage for your 'money chat'
So, now you know you need to talk, but how do you actually pull it off without arguing or getting frustrated? Here's what Olivia Mellan suggests:

  • Find a non-stressful time to talk -- when money is not a loaded issue, such as during tax season.
  • Set aside a time when neither one of you is hassled or stressed. In this way, you can both devote quality time to this important sharing session and listen to each other with as much patience and respect as possible.
  • Agree on some ground rules: No interrupting each other, and after one person shares a difficult piece of information, the partner should try to mirror it back before responding.
  • Mention your concerns about your partner's money style. Acknowledge what you admire about their methods and what you secretly envy. Hoarders secretly admire spenders' capacity to enjoy life in the present, while spenders secretly envy hoarders ability to set limits, to budget and delay gratification. Making positive statements will help to make your partner feel safe enough to give up the negative aspects of their behavior.
  • Set a time to have your next money talk. Aim for weekly conversations in the beginning, then monthly ones.

"It may be hard to have an honest discussion about your finances," says Welch.

"However, it's important to create a trusting relationship so you'll be able to talk about money in both good times and bad times. Start early and you will reap the benefits for many years to come."


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-- Posted: Dec. 8, 2004
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