Last week, we asked if you had questions about how to approach the topic of talking with your loved one about a particularly difficult money situation. Sheila Heen, communications expert responsible for much of content of Have the Talk America, made her advice available and answered your questions. We’ll present the first two today, and finish up with the second two tomorrow.
This is such a great opportunity! I have a ‘talk’ I need to start, but really am dreading it. I just got engaged to my fiance (we’ve been together for quite awhile). I know the smart thing to do is to get a pre-nup, but he has said that they are the worst things ever!! He thinks you’re preparing to divorce before you even get married! We both plan to spend the rest of our lives together (obviously) but just-in-case (since you never know who you or they will turn into!) I think we should have a pre-nup before we get married. How do I bring this up to him without hurting him and without making it seem like I expect to divorce sometime in the future?
First things first: Do you have much to protect? Forgive my forwardness, but I don’t want you to tackle this conversation and endure the pain if you don’t need to.
Pre-nups are designed to protect a spouse who brings significant wealth into the marriage. So if the couple later divorces, the spouse doesn’t have to divide assets that they feel were “theirs” before they even met their soon-to-be-ex. If you have a trust fund, inheritance, stock portfolio, real estate (with equity in it), or a yacht docked in Monte Carlo, then, yes, you should think seriously about a pre-nup.
If you think you might need one, it might make sense to talk with a lawyer, and take your fiancé with you. I know it’s touchy. You are preparing for the worst even while planning for, and expecting, the best. It’s emotionally confusing and may sound to your fiancé like you are sending mixed messages about your commitment or expectations of him. Reassure him that this isn’t the case at all, and try to explain what, specifically, you are worried about. And be sure to ask him what he hears you asking – this will give you a chance to clarify so that you truly end up on the same page.
My boyfriend, who is in graduate school, is completely financially dependent on his parents. He lives rent-free and earns more than enough to pay his mandatory expenses and save, but instead spends everything he earns and has his parents refill his account when he overdraws. We talk about moving in together when we both finish school, but I’m afraid he’ll expect to live off me the way he lives off his parents. It’s not that I think he’ll take advantage so much as I think he doesn’t know how to take care of himself financially. How can I talk to him about “proving himself,” without asking him to prove himself?
Dear Strange Bird,
I think you are “right on the money” – as they say – with your concern. A few of us had a class in school about how to manage our emotional relationship with money, which drives the way we spend, save, cash and charge. If your boyfriend hasn’t had a chance to make all the usual mistakes on his own, then you are along for the ride while he figures it out.
You’re right. Asking him to “prove himself” isn’t going to go down very well. This frames you as the grown-up who has the answers, and him as the financial first-grader.
Instead, talk about it in terms of finding out whether the two of you have compatible values, assumptions and habits around money. This will open up the conversation about how you each manage the money coming in and the expenses going out. How do you decide whether you can afford something? How much savings do you each feel you need? How much debt are you comfortable having, and for what? School? A car? Nice dinners out? Or the very latest video-game player? How might you test those ideas – with a household joint account? With a budget for the next couple of months?
If you can have this conversation in the spirit of thinking it through together, and resist the temptation to judge or lecture, then he may hear your concerns, have some ideas, and you can map a path forward together.
We’d like to thank Sheila for being available to answer some reader questions!
We’d also like to point out that on the Have the Talk America website, if you make a pledge to talk with your loved one about a dificult topic, Nationwide will donate $1 to the Red Cross. I’m sure they could need all the help they could get with the recent tragedy in Bangladesh.