Are you and your spouse truly aligned when it comes to finances? Do you rarely experience conflicts about money? If so, you might have financial intimacy in your relationship. This goes beyond merely sharing financial information. It involves both partners feeling safe enough to be vulnerable and honest discussing their feelings, beliefs, needs, and behaviors around money.
Some couples may have what can be termed “faux” financial intimacy, where there is no tension or conflict because they avoid talking about money. This lack of openness may stem from one partner’s past experiences of having their opinions disregarded, minimized, or invalidated.
Financial intimacy is an essential aspect of a healthy romantic relationship, though it is routinely overlooked by therapists in comparison to other forms of intimacy like emotional, spiritual, or physical intimacy. Marriage.com lists 12 types of coupleship intimacies; none are financial.
Financial therapist Ed Coambs, author of The Healthy Love & Money Way, says “Financial intimacy begins with basic level honesty,” like sharing financial information with one another. “However, financial intimacy goes a lot deeper than that. It also includes feelings, beliefs, and behaviors around money. When a couple is financially intimate they feel safe and comfortable talking to their partner about any topic about money.”
Brene Brown, renowned researcher on shame and vulnerability, says, “There can be no intimacy … without vulnerability. It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need. Vulnerability is a glue that holds intimate relationships together.”
Creating financial intimacy is not easy. It will involve learning new communication skills and working intentionally towards building vulnerability when it comes to financial matters.
If you and your partner have recurring conflict over money, the journey toward financial intimacy may seem like an impossible road to go down together. That fear makes perfect sense in the context of how you both relate to money. Chances are you’ve had the same conversation, with the same outcome, over and over. It’s time to do something radically different.
The first step towards learning a new communication skill is to focus on your own reactions and feelings when the topic of money arises, rather than focusing on your partner’s behavior. This is hard because the story we often tell ourselves is that if our partner would change their behavior, there would be no problem. Some couples therapists call this practicing a U-turn. When your partner says or does something that is triggering to you, don’t respond immediately. Instead, turn your attention inward to what you are thinking and feeling. When both partners have learned how to keep the focus on what’s happening within them, the pattern of conflict will deescalate.
Now you can focus on articulating the hopes and fears around each other’s behavior. Often you will discover you are both wanting the same thing and going about it very differently.
The second step involves beginning to have courageous conversations about finances. These discussions require honesty, vulnerability, and a willingness to address difficult topics and risk conflict. Engaging in these conversations can be challenging, but it is crucial for building true financial intimacy in the relationship.
When partners can be financially intimate with each other, they can work together to achieve their financial goals, such as saving money, paying off debt, or planning for the future. They can also support each other’s individual goals and needs around money. Achieving financial intimacy requires the hard and continuous practice of open and honest communication. While breaking away from old patterns is difficult, the benefits of financial intimacy, including reduced stress and better financial decision-making, make it worth the effort.