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Feature Article


Money talks: Using communication skills to discuss finances

Kim Allen, Ph.D., M.F.T., former State Specialist & Christina Crawford, M.A., former Extension Associate, Human Development & Family Studies, University of Missouri Extension


Have you and your partner ever fought over money? You are not alone — most couples have experienced arguments or have recurring conflict about money. Regardless of income, money is one of the most common causes of discord in a relationship. When money gets tight, the chance for conflict is even higher. However, there are some tips that can help when trying to discuss finances or other sources of conflict with your partner.


Use these SPEAK/HEAR skills to have a non-confrontational and productive discussion with your partner. Use the SPEAK skills to state your feelings, and then give your partner a turn and use the HEAR skills. When using the HEAR skills, you are only listening to your partner’s viewpoint, not sharing your own.


Start with a positive. Start by saying something positive about your concern, such as “I know it’s important for us to be financially safe” or “I’m glad we agree that the bills must be paid first.” We are all more eager to listen when the tone for the conversation starts with a positive.

Pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Be careful about the words you use, your tone of voice and your body language. You are more likely to be listened to if you speak in a gentle, non-threatening way.

Explain how you feel, using details. Share how something makes you feel and what specific situations have upset you. Use an “I” statement to take charge of your own feelings. Name the specific behavior that concerns you and how that behavior makes you feel. For example, “I feel frustrated when you say you will save money and instead you spend money on expensive coffee drinks.”

Avoid trigger words, like always and never. Trigger words are words that can quickly turn a conversation into a fight. These include words like always and never. Everyone has their own set of trigger words as well. Recognize these words and avoid using them.

Keep it brief, then give your partner a chance to talk. Briefly share your concerns with your partner, then allow your partner a chance to paraphrase what you said and share his or her thoughts.


Now that you have had a chance to share your side of the story, give your partner a turn to use the SPEAK skills while you listen using the HEAR skills. Remember that you are now only listening to your partner’s viewpoint, not sharing your own.


Honor your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Honoring your partner is about making your partner feel valued and showing respect for his or her thoughts and feelings. Show your partner that you value him or her by listening and focusing on what your partner is saying, not what you want to say next.

Empathize: Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Empathizing with your partner means that you understand and can imagine how your partner might be feeling. Show your partner that you respect his or her feelings as being real and valid.

Allow a difference of opinion. Even if you disagree with your partner, your job as the listener is only to listen to what your partner is saying and to repeat back what you hear. Don’t judge your partner or share how you feel.

Repeat respectfully. After your partner is done sharing his or her feelings, repeat what your partner said as closely to his or her words as you can. Repeating your partner’s words helps you to really focus on what your partner is saying.

Couples that use these skills when talking about tough issues are often able to do so with less conflict. If you think you are going to have a discussion about a difficult topic, plan a time and a place where you can talk and use these skills to help you and your partner have a positive conversation.



Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Humphries, D. (2001). Can we talk? Improving couples' communication. University of Florida Extension.

Markman, H. J., Stanley, S.M., & Blumberg, S.L. (2001). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Markman, H. J., Stanley, S.M., & Blumberg, S.L. (2001). Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). Denver, CO: PREP Educational Products, Inc.


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Last Updated 08/11/2015