Yesterday, my friend Travis wrote a post about trusting his wife as she left to go shopping with a spendthrift friend. He mentioned that, although he had a million questions racing around in his mind, he had to let go and trust her to stick to their budget. And you know what? She came through (I should point out here that I’m not surprised because Travis’s wife is awesome).
He raised an important issue: trust. Trust in a relationship, especially in financial matters, is excruciatingly important. In fact, without trust in that area, you’re probably not going to have trust in other areas. We’ve all heard the stories of couples divorcing or breaking up due to financial strain or financial infidelity (which, I feel obliged to say, is real. I know several couples who manage their finances separately and at least one spouse lies to the other about how much she earns or spends).
Like any other kind of trust, trusting your partner financially doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that has to grow and develop over time. But how can we start to develop that trust? There are a few steps we can take:
- Be honest. Whether you’re talking about anything from the amount of debt you have to spending money on the smallest of purchases, don’t lie. There is nothing worse than one person in a relationship finding out that she’s been lied to not only about the amount of debt the other has, but the type of debt. Or how it occurred. Or how long it’s going to take to pay off. This happened to me early on in my relationship with my husband and I found out that a certain debt of his was not at all what I expected. Every time we made a payment on that debt, I got angry and resentful that it was taking away from our joint financial goals.
- Be accountable. Own up to your behaviors. If you decide to spend $9 on lunch with co-workers instead of eating your packed lunch, tell your partner about it. Don’t wait for her to find out when she checks the account online or finds a receipt in your pants pocket. My parents always told me that I’d be in more trouble for lying about an act than for the act itself. I think this advice applies here. Part of earning your partner’s trust means taking responsibility for your actions.
- Talk about your financial goals. Keeping money a secret does not breed healthy behaviors, and that secrecy can lead to financial infidelity (or worse). Openly discussing finances can be a bonding experience for a couple as they work their way through developing a budget or creating debt repayment plan or even setting goals.
- Do what you say you’re going to do. If you tell your partner that you’re going to pay a bill, do it. If you tell your partner that you’re going to buy only one book or round of golf, do it. If you agree to stick to a budget or to use extra money to pay down debt or save for a common goal, do it. This is perhaps the most essential element in building trust. By showing that you are reliable and stick to your word, your partner will trust your judgment on larger financial matters down the road.
Building financial trust takes time. Don’t set a deadline for how long it should take your partner to trust you. He or she may have baggage from childhood or a previous relationship that may mean it takes him (or her) longer to trust you than you would like. But don’t rush it. If you’re consistent and patient, it will happen.
What are some ways you’ve built financial trust in your relationships?