[Editor's Note: Today's guest post is from Dr. Kelly Pham, a physician and blogger who writes about finding balance in relationships, career, and family with her physician husband Hubert on the blog Love, Success and the Sock Drawer. This post goes into something not only more important than money, but critical to mastering money— building a strong relationship with your partner. We have no financial relationship.]
Finance is one of the most heated topics in a relationship because money carries with it a lot of meaning. With meaning comes strong emotion and often conflict.
Dual-physician (and other professional) couples are especially at risk for conflict surrounding money given the societal expectations for physicians and wealth, the fact that both partners are high-income earners, and both might be type A in personality.
That being said, money can be a unifier in a relationship, and instead of causing conflict, can result in personal growth and a sense of camaraderie.
Why We Fight About Money
Money is not just a number on a statement or a calculation of your net worth.
Money is…a 4,000 square-foot house, a vacation in Tuscany, a diamond necklace, a carbon fiber Bianchi road bike, exclusively organic foods, private education, an oat milk cardamom latte and that precious commodity that everyone seeks…time.
This gets at the relationship between money and your values.
Every time you spend money, you’re voting for what is important to you; for what you value.
I vote every time I buy organic foods from local farmers not only for the health of my family but for the health of the workers that are growing and harvesting that food. I vote to protect our planet when I choose to buy things in aluminum or glass instead of plastic.
I also vote in choosing not to spend money. For example, my partner and I choose not to send our child to a private school. Not because we don’t value education, but because we value the diversity of a public education.
These are things that I value. These are the things that my partner and I value.
Put simply, values are a collection of beliefs that guide your actions. Money is just a means by which to exercise your values.
Your values develop over time with influence from family, friends, education, religion, etc. These are often unwritten and undiscussed between couples, which can lead to conflict in many areas of life, finance being one of them.
Going a Bit Deeper
On a deeper level, money can be a sign of power, respect, self-worth, and success.
In a dual-physician couple, you have two highly motivated individuals that have worked extremely hard to get to where they are professionally.
You’ve been in training for upwards of 14 years of your young adult life. You’ve been a medical student living off of loans or if you were lucky, your parents. You’ve been a resident receiving a measly paycheck that wasn’t enough to start paying off your loans in any significant way.
Finally, you’ve made it. You have your first real job and you deserve a Maserati, a new house, a new wardrobe, etc.
Others should know that you are here, right? They should see how successful you are. You need to feel like it has been worth it.
Well, as it turns out, your partner may have the same feelings about their 14 years of struggle but may disagree about your $150,000 Maserati (or even worse, may want one of their own).
This doesn’t even take into consideration the $400,000+ of debt that you collectively have. This debt plus the societal expectation that physicians are wealthy is a recipe for disaster not only for your personal finances but also for your relationship.
Malaligned financial decisions can breed resentment. They can result in some partners hiding financial decisions. This can lead to further breakdowns in communication and trust, both of which are imperative in a successful relationship.
Given the depth and breadth of meaning placed on money, it’s not surprising that it can be so impactful on a relationship between two highly motivated and high-earning individuals.
Money…the Great Unifier
It’s rather obvious how money can divide you as a couple. On the other end of the spectrum, though, money can be a great unifier.
If you make collective decisions with both of your goals and values at the core of these decisions, this can actually strengthen your relationship.
This starts by defining your goals both individually and as a couple.
Action: Take a moment and write down your top 5 goals for the next 5 years. (See Your Mega-Goal Sandwich for a worksheet with instructions.) I recommend doing this first as an exercise for general life goals followed by the same exercise for financial goals. The general life goals can give you perspective on how your financial goals align with your greater life plan and values.
Now comes the tricky part. Once you have individually defined your goals, you must come together to align them. You share finances and thus you should be aligned in your goals or in support of the others’ goals.
You may have some goals that overlap. This is great. Celebrate these. When you come to the ones that don’t align, the fun begins. Now is the time for an open conversation about why these things are important to you.
You may learn something new about your partner. Maybe the reason that she wants an expensive wardrobe for her new job is because she grew up in a home with 4 children and wore her sister’s hand-me-down clothes for all of her childhood. Hmm…makes you think differently about that $400 dress.
Is this important enough to her, though, that she will sacrifice money from the travel fund for your trip to Malta next year? Or can you come to the realization together that it doesn’t really matter if she buys the $100 dress or the $400 dress? She looks beautiful in either of them. If she chooses the less expensive one, that means more money in the bank for that trip that you both want to take!
On the other hand, she may decide that she values that wardrobe more than the trip to Malta.
You need to be ok with some differences in opinion and in values. You are different people, after all. You may not understand it and you may not agree with it, but you will need to compromise at times.
In that case, maybe you set aside a certain amount of money that you each spend individually on things that you value that the other person may not. In doing so, you may now be going to Jamaica or may need to put off that trip to Malta for another year.
This is an example of a relationship builder. You have the opportunity to learn more about your partner and to grow together in your decisions.
Action: Sit down with your partner and your individual goals and review them openly. Don’t judge your partner’s goals. Listen with an open mind to their story. Celebrate your alignment and compromise on your malalignment. Let this be a learning and growing experience.
Now that you’re on the same team, you can support one another in attaining your goals. This is the best! You have an accountability partner. A cheerleader.
You can make decisions together and separately that support your aligned financial goals.
As a dual-physician couple, you will be challenged by phenomena such as burnout, student debt, fear of litigation and lifestyle creep, all of which are so prevalent in our society. With your partner at your side, you can recognize these phenomena and avoid them, should this be in line with your goals, of course!
Not only that, as a successful and intelligent couple, you may decide to undertake financial ventures outside of medicine. You have the opportunity to either support your partner in these financial endeavors (blogging, real-estate investing, and entrepreneurship to name a few) or to join forces.
When you make finances a unifier in your relationship, you are not only a power couple in your relationship but in your financial future.
Action: Sit down with your partner and consider how you can support one another in attaining your goals. What are your financial strategies?
We Choose to Unify over Finances
Everyone has heard those statistics about divorce and how finances can ruin a marriage or a relationship. But not often do you hear about how it can grow a relationship; how it can unify a couple.
In aligning your goals, having crucial conversations and supporting one another, you will take your relationship…and your finances to the next level.
What do you think? How has understanding the deeper reasons “why” you and your partner make your financial decisions transformed your relationships for the better (or the worse)? Comment below!