When you hear the phrase financial partnership, you might instantly think of the relationship you have with your banker, investment advisor, or business associate. But what about your romantic partner, kids, parents, and friends? Finances can and do impact these other relationships in your life, arguably in deeper and more important ways.
So how do we get a better personal-money balance in our relationships? (For related reading, see: Healthcare Documents You Need in Place Right Now.)
What Is Balance?
There’s an old saying about marriage that no partnership is ever 50-50 all the time. Another that’s apropos is: “Fair isn’t necessarily equal.” Balance doesn’t necessarily mean that each person does exactly half. One partner might be better at something or like it more. And as time, energy, and the other demands of life shift and pull, the balance point can change.
Balance can look different for different relationships. If you have kids, they’ll need an age-appropriate role in your family’s overall financial management. Your financial partnership with your parents may be a moving target in the other direction, as they go from supporting you to being supported by you. With friends, something as simple as having lunch together can open the door to questions of fairness, especially when you have differing money resources.
Challenges to Equitability
Why do partnerships feel out of balance so often in the first place? Without question, disagreements over money can create stress in personal relationships. It’s a well-known contributing factor in many divorces, and it can pit parent against child at any age. A feeling of imbalance can cause conflict. When one partner in a financial relationship feels less empowered, less trusted, less listened to, or too undervalued or overworked, this lack of equitability affects the personal relationship and hinders the partnership’s ability to successfully manage finances.
Time constraints are a compounding part of the problem. We planners often hear from clients that they’re so busy that it can be hard to find time to talk about money with their partners. Parents may prefer to use their time with their kids for fun or to focus on basics like homework. Adults taking care of aging parents may find the time burdens of doing so leave few moments left over in which to talk comfortably about other important things.
And, sometimes, if we’re honest, money conversations are tempting to put off because even if we had the time, we don’t always know how to navigate the conversation. (For related reading, see: Financial Planning: It's About More Than Money.)
The Art of Achieving Balance
One of the big themes that emerged in a talk we hosted, about the challenges and successes in finding financial balance and equitability in important partnerships, was that one of the core financial partnerships that women wanted to improve was the one they had with themselves. The demands on them were changing; as they had kids or as their kids grew up and needed them less; as they dated, became single, got married, divorced, or were widowed; as their parents aged; as they grew in their careers or re-focused on other areas of their lives, and so on.
Sometimes this led to a loss of self. In response to the question of how money has a role in finding equilibrium in your partnerships, one woman said, “It gives me the freedom…to think about me.” It is possible to work toward feeling more in balance. Our attendees shared some strategies they successfully use:
- Find your own balance first. If you feel balance is lacking in your own life, it will be difficult to achieve it in your relationships. Perhaps you feel pressured by conflicting roles—spouse, parent, caretaker, earner, etc. Maybe you spend too much time taking care of others or taking care of business, and devote too little time to your own needs. Finding your own balance first can help you become a better partner in all of your important partnerships.
- Figure out what equitability looks like to you. Do you want a more active voice in investment decisions? Would you like your partner to take on more day-to-day money-management tasks, like paying bills and buying groceries? Do you need your aging parents to give you more power to make decisions on their behalf? Maybe the reverse is true and you want to step back on some of these roles. Your balance of equitability will be as unique as you and your situation.
- Decide where equilibrium is missing. Once you know what you need, it will be easier to understand where the equilibrium spot in a partnership is for you. Not every financial partnership will be out of balance, or at the same level of imbalance. Prioritize the relationships you most need to bring into alignment; you can’t do everything at once. Sometimes the balance point simply isn’t clear and talking to a financial planner or coach can be helpful.
- Let go where and when you can. It’s not unusual for women to try to do it all. After all, culture and nature often cast us in the role of caretaker. Yet it’s just not possible for one person to do everything. Time and money are finite resources for all of us. Work with your partners to determine what tasks you can share, automate, or assign. This could be something as minor as giving children age-appropriate money-related tasks, such as having your 7-year-old clean the loose change out of your purse every week so you don’t have to do it. A wise caution: this also includes letting the person responsible for the task decide how to get it done.
It’s important to realize that your financial partnerships are living things. Roles will evolve as life circumstances change. So, too, will your perspective about your roles and circumstances.
As Dr. Seuss once said, “life’s a great balancing act.” With constant evaluation and adjustments—and kindness—it’s possible to create greater equitability in financial partnerships and a happier balance in life. (For related reading, see: The Key to Financial Success and Prosperity.)