The holidays often bring up a lot of stressors for couples. One of the most common challenges couples face during the holiday season comes down to dollars and cents, particularly so when your financial viewpoint differs from your partner. Thinking about money or your finances during the holidays with gift buying, entertaining, and travel, can be stressful. Too often couples feel pressure to spend more money than they are comfortable with in order to make for a happy holiday, even at the risk of racking up credit card debt.
When working with couples in therapy, investigating the meaning of money and each person’s personal history with finances brings up a lot of vulnerability. Too often we avoid discussing this very important subject matter. How comfortable you are talking about money with your partner can make or break your relationship.
Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert, examined this exact concept in her book, “Breaking Money Silence.” The book looks at the ways couples and individuals can improve how they think and talk about money. Some signs that couples are financially incompatible are obvious. Signs such as hiding purchases or racking up debt, often unbeknownst to their partner. “Often money is a symbol of something else,” Kingsbury said. “That might be a symptom of trust issues in the relationship.”
But even couples who are on the same page and share priorities when it comes to what they spend money on may still have differences. For example, let’s say both partners value adventurous experiences. They+ may still disagree on where to go on vacation and what equipment they will need once they are there. Getting past those differences comes down to communication. Kingsbury suggests the following tips for how couples can get beyond financial issues:
- Examine your own individual mindset about money. Understand your own perspective.
- Look at your reluctance to talk about money.
- Actively listen to your partner.
- Go on a money date. Set aside time to discuss topics like budgeting and tracking your finances.
- Consult a professional if needed.
So bringing all of this into context of holiday spending, what are some ways to come together as a couple and get through the season feeling like you made sound decisions? The American Psychological Association (APA) offers similar good ideas to help you deal with the financial stress around the holidays.
- Make one financial decision at a time. Simplify your spending by spacing out your financial decisions instead of binging and becoming overwhelmed.
- Track your spending. Research shows that tracking can be an effective tool. Keep a daily list of how you spend your money.
- Identify your financial stressors and make a plan. Take stock of your financial situation and where money causes you stress. Write down ways you and your family can reduce expenses or manage your money more efficiently. Then commit to a plan and review it regularly. Although this can be anxiety-provoking in the short term, writing a plan and sticking to it can reduce stress.
- Recognize how you deal with stress related to money. In tough economic times, some people are more likely to relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities such as smoking, drinking, compulsive sexual behavior or emotional eating. The strain can also lead to more conflict and arguments between partners. Be alert to these behaviors — if they are causing you trouble, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.