Scott Hasting, a financial analyst, and his wife, Alice, felt it wasn't a big deal when they attended couples financial counseling before they got married. "It was not because either of us was neck-deep in debt," says Scott. But it was because they valued clarifying their finances and getting on the same page with the perspective of an outside professional.
Just like going to marriage counseling, going to couples financial therapy—especially before you marry, but even later when financial issues crop up—can put you and your mate on a more even, understanding level. Plus, it can open your eyes to each other's money behaviors.
There's almost nothing couples fight over more than money; a Ramsey Solutions study found that money fights are the second leading cause of divorce (behind infidelity).
No wonder, since most couples come to their relationship with different money styles, varying approaches to saving and spending, different backgrounds and family circumstances surrounding money, and countless personal financial quirks they've developed along the way. By the time couples partner up, they may not agree on how to handle the family finances together.
Enter couples financial counseling. Money therapy is about taking two different people with their own experiences and biases about finance and helping them set up a system in which they both can talk openly, and figure out a way to coexist while working toward shared financial goals.
"Our spending habits are not the same, so we did have some problems on that," says Hasting.
What is couples financial counseling like?
Aside from getting on the same financial page as your partner, couples financial therapy can tackle some of the most common money issues couples struggle with throughout a relationship, such as:
Impulsive spending habits
Saving v. spending styles
Financial planning and goals
Depending on how your financial coach likes to work, you may talk openly about what's going on with your finances, work on exercises as homework, or spend a lot of time listening to how the other person feels about money and why they make the money choices they do to gain insight.
"One of the most common issues that bring couples to my therapy couch is spending habits—one is a spender, the other a saver," says Christina Steinorth-Powell, a licensed psychotherapist in Nashville.
She strives to help couples reach a compromise. "We start with having each partner make a list of their financial must-haves and place them in a list of priority," Steinorth-Powell continues. "Then, we compare the lists to see if there is any common ground." After exploring a realistic budget of must-haves, the couple can then work on a list of their wants.
"What is interesting is that it always seems easier for the saver to come to a compromise, rather than the spender," she notes. "And this makes sense, because it's hard to give up the instant gratification that spenders are somewhat addicted to."
Although every case is different, there are many commonalities in couples money therapy. "Not having a common financial language is one of the biggest obstacles," says Hanna J. Morrell, a holistic financial coach at Pacific Stoa Financial Wellness. "Without a common language, they're not likely to be able to communicate without hardship about money, even if they communicate well in every other way."
Money language is how each person views money, spends money, thinks of money, and prioritizes or downplays their money.
"Finances are emotionally loaded, whether we like it or not, so addressing that and creating an environment where both partners can talk is critical," says Morrell.
Morrell has couples create an adaptive budget, build regularly scheduled money talks, work through money crises together, and develop financial goals and plans in sync. "One thing I've seen come out of my sessions with clients is that they report an increased intimacy around their financial conversations," she says.
Are you a candidate for couples financial counseling?
Whether you'd like to get on the same financial page as a partner before a marriage, or are already partnered and looking to improve your relationship to money and each other, you may benefit from financial couples counseling.
Some couples come to counseling only after what they've been doing with their money—and each other—isn't working, or when their money behaviors start causing problems or fights. Others, like Hastings, are proactive; they want to be sure they won't hit snags in heir relationship over money, so they hash out how they'll deal with it upfront.
"I think it was a necessary step as when we got married, we no longer fought about money matters, since we already talked about everything in the therapy before," says Hasting.
Finding a couples money therapist
Financial coaches come in a variety of accreditations. Some may be psychotherapists or licensed mental health workers who delve into financial counseling with a focus on communication and the relationship, while others are financial advisors or finance experts who counsel couples similarly to how they advise clients singly.
"When working with a financial coach, the process is somewhat of a mix between a financial advisor and a marriage counselor," says Seth Connell, a Ramsey Solutions master financial coach. "While financial coaches are not always formally trained in psychology, we often deal with similar issues and provide practical guidance for the situations causing the conflict."
A good financial counselor or coach will get to the root of why you've come for couples counseling without any judgment, only a genuine desire to help you succeed. "Hiring a financial counselor or coach is an investment," says Connell. "The dividends it pays with your money and your marriage will be many times over your initial output."