02/21/2011 02:15 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

On The Delicate Subject of Money

Money permeates every relationship in life, every interpersonal interaction: friendship and courtship, living together and marriage, divorce and death. Partners avoid talking about money and dealing with the emotions it evokes. Money is certainly still a taboo in couple talk.

Money, of course, has always provided plenty of fodder for partnership discord. Many of the complaints I hear have changed little over the years. A typical husband's lament: "My wife is an emotional spender. She's not realistic about money." His spouse's refrain: "Money with him is a power struggle. He doesn't hear me when I ask for things. He doesn't know what it takes to run a family."

What have changed are financial roles. It is an era of his, her and their checking accounts; a time when wives are likely to make as much as or more than their husbands and to have their own, often divergent ideas about handling money.

Money differences or incompatibilities are just a symptom of some underlying dynamic, not the cause. Money is a commodity which takes on other meanings and emotions. It becomes the emotional football that partners may use to throw back and forth at one another and never resolve their real issues. Family finances may be a forum for disputes over responsibility and commitment, need for attention, lack of trust in others.

Here are some suggestions for trying to work things out on your own in building a compatible and productive money management process:

  • Talk over financial matters regularly, at a time when money decisions are not pressing. You might consider setting up monthly "meetings" when you and your partner can discuss major goals, lifestyle issues, investment strategies as well as dreams and hopes for the future.
  • Partnerships that work require mutual respect, understanding and compromise. Think "partnership" and how you can strengthen your relationship in working together toward common goals.
  • Both partners should keep abreast of the financial situation. Some couples find it helps to trade off responsibility for paying bills; others delegate the job to the partner best suited to perform it. Each partner should feel he or she has access to money and knowledge of their financial status.
  • Agree on at least a few financial goals over the next six months, talking over those things most important to you. Write down your decisions so both of you remember your goals and your top priorities for planning.
  • Start with simple goals and ones that are important to both of you. Then take on more challenging goals -- ones which will require compromise and working more diligently together. This process will get easier with practice.

Above all, remember that arriving at a workable money strategy is a negotiation process. It's very healthy to admit who you are when it comes to money and what you really value. The health and wealth of the partnership depends on both partners being aware, involved and committed to working together to achieve what's most important to them individually as well as what works best for their relationship.