Fighting over money
How do I get my live in boyfriend to take care of his part of the monthly bills and groceries without sounding like I'm more worried about money than the relationship? He gives me money for some stuff, sometimes, but I have ended up taking care of most of the monthly expenses, and I'm starting to feel resentful. He makes more money than me, although I'm more financially stable. How do I address this sensitive issue?
Money management issues are often noted as the main source of stress for couples who live together. Arguments about money are also generally cited as being more intense and passionate than other conflicts, so clear and consistent communication between partners is vital to ensure that the relationship stays positive. Seeking guidance on how to communicate is a great first step. When it comes to finances, it's helpful to understand each other’s goals and expectations, understand each other’s views on equity, openly share emotions, and create agreed-upon rules around spending. Your willingness to address your concerns about money in a polite conversation rather than blow your top is an excellent sign that you and your boyfriend may be on your way to peace.
Before you talk to your boyfriend about finances, it might help to do some preparatory work. For example, you may want to think about the best time and place to have a discussion. There will never be a “perfect” moment, but you can consider a location and time of day in which you will both feel comfortable and able to converse at length without disturbances. If more people are involved in the finances of your relationship, such as a friend or relative, it may be worth assessing if they should participate in the conversation, too. You might also want to practice what you will say to your boyfriend beforehand. What would you like to change about your current financial situation? What can the two of you afford to do? Once you have a plan, it's recommended that you let your boyfriend know that you want to talk about your finances. That way, he will not only get to prepare what he wants to say, but he will be able to devote his attention and time to the discussion.
When starting the conversation, keeping a positive tone will likely prevent your boyfriend from feeling attacked. As for what you say at the beginning, you may choose to take a direct or an indirect approach to the topic of money. For example, you could simply state that you’d like to discuss your monthly finances and want to hear his opinion. However, if that feels too uncomfortable, you could also bring the subject up in a more subtle way by using objects around you or similar situations happening in the news or to your friends as a segway into the conversation. Regardless of how you decide to begin discussing the bills, it's recommended that the two of you be at eye-level with each other. Though it may sound like a small detail, this positioning makes sure that one person isn't physically above the other (which can be intimidating).
Once the two of you are talking about finances, you will likely want to ensure that all of your concerns about money are addressed and that your boyfriend isn't hurt by the discussion. There are a few different ways that you can improve the likelihood of this outcome:
- Be aware of your emotions and your boyfriend’s emotions. Is one of you getting very upset or frustrated? If so, it might be a good idea to take a “time out” and resume the conversation after a brief break.
- Don’t interrupt or blame each other. If you or your boyfriend begin to pin the responsibility for financial issues on each other, it's likely that the focus of the conversation will pivot away from potential solutions and turn towards defensiveness. One option to avoid blaming is by using “I” statements instead of “you” statements: for example, instead of saying “you don’t give me enough money for our monthly bills,” it might be more productive to the conversation to say “I sometimes struggle to cover the monthly bills with what we both contribute.” Interruption also limits the other person’s ability to express their feelings and may make them feel unheard or disrespected.
- Stay on topic. Since you two just want to discuss finances, it could be helpful to make sure that you don’t begin talking about other concerns in the relationship. Those can be saved for another time.
- Recognize that you two don’t have to resolve every problem right now. The most important part of this discussion is making sure that both you and your boyfriend can communicate your worries.
- Be prepared for a negative reaction. It's not guaranteed that your boyfriend will be on the same page with you at all points of the discussion. Therefore, it could be beneficial to know how to respond if he starts to disagree with you. For example, you could ask what his reasons are for the disagreement and be sure to listen to them with an open mind. Even if you two don’t see eye to eye, you can at least consider each other’s perspectives.
Following the talk, the two of you might feel a rush of relief as conversations about finances are usually difficult ones. However, if you both don’t work to ensure that your concerns around paying bills are addressed, it's likely that you’ll have to have the same type of talk again at a later date. That’s not to say that having conversations about money is something to avoid; on the contrary, being honest about financial problems and routinely communicating with each other (rather than bottling worries up until you explode) will most likely help your relationship to persevere.
Having said that, there are some steps that you can take to make sure that you and your boyfriend are able to maintain a good dialogue around money in the future that doesn’t involve blame or resentment. It may be helpful, for example, to write down the positive solutions that have resulted from your discussion. What points did you bring up and what goals have you set for yourselves moving forward? Keeping a record like this might be beneficial as you can refer to it if financial concerns start to emerge again. Furthermore, by communicating openly about your financial wishes and needs, you and your boyfriend will surely continue to learn more about each other.
Wishing the best for the both of you,
Originally published Jan 26, 2007
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