Talk to any relationship expert and they’ll tell you—money is one of the most hot-button topics for couples, whether you’ve been together two years or 20, and whether you’re arguing about the cost of school tuition, an approach to paying off debt or simply a post-pandemic shopping spree. (Oops.)
But instead of pointing fingers or losing your cool, there’s a deescalating phrase you can utter in the heat of the moment, according to Catherine Richardson, a couples counselor at mobile therapy platform Talkspace.
It’s just five words: Help me understand this cost.
“We are often so intent on having our values or opinions heard that we lose the ability to listen,” Richardson explains. “A phrase like this helps you slow down and get a better grasp and gain perspective on what your partner is trying to say.”
After all, maybe your wife’s $6 coffees are a necessary splurge that brightens her day, or maybe your husband’s predilection for private school speaks to his own educational experience. “Our vulnerabilities and fears about money can be powerful,” Richardson adds. “Getting to the heart of why you may be having extreme feelings can help you share and promote connection.”
From there, you can also start to make an action plan. Once you know the reason for your partner’s money decision or feeling, you can calmly discuss if it does or doesn’t work within your budget. But again, it’s about listening and offering support. Ask, “What would make it easier to keep track of how we spend?” or “What could we give up to justify this cost?” or even “Could we meet with a financial planner to explore this further?” This shows you’re a team accomplishing something together. And that is always good for the bottom line.