In the latest episode of Your Real Money Stories podcast, the team talk about love languages and what they mean for your financial relationship. To cast a bit more light on this topic, we asked Emma Maslin, financial coach and founder of award-winning personal finance website The Money Whisperer , to explore how understanding your unique language of love, and that of your partner, can be the key to a happy relationship and avoiding friction over your finances.
It’s the time of year when romance is in the air. Valentine’s Day is often the day when we make an extra effort to show our loved ones exactly how much we care. Typically this is with cards and gifts. But have you ever thought that maybe instead of receiving gifts, they would prefer a demonstration of love in another way?
The five love languages
It’s easy to think that “love is love” but there are lots of different ways in which it can be expressed. In Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages he talks about how most people fall into five categories when it comes to the way they prefer to express and receive love: receiving gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch and acts of service.
Knowing each other’s ‘love language’ can not only help you strengthen your romantic relationships, but also can guide your approach to improving other areas of your life, like your finances.
What a useful thing for us to understand about ourselves and our loved ones! Without doubt, money is one of the leading causes of friction in relationships. Differences in opinion over how many times a month to have a take away or how much spending money to take on holiday can creep in. Small disagreements can leave both partners feeling that they aren’t on the same page around their finances.
Other, more meaningful, issues can be the root cause of relationships breaking down. This could be chronic overspending by one partner which puts the family into debt, or secrecy around job-loss or problem addictions.
Money and your relationship
Partners view money and its role in their life from two different angles. We each have a unique money personality. For some, having a budget, keeping spending under control and saving money helps them feel safe and in control. For others who like to spend money more freely, money is a tool to enjoy the moment, or to feel good in themselves through their ability to help or lavish gifts on others.
Whilst it is unreasonable to think that we can mould a partner to view money in the same way as us, to maintain a harmonious relationship, we do need to appreciate where our own personality traits may cause conflict with those of our partner.
The key to lasting love and a happy relationship is to pay attention to how you prefer love expressed, as well as how your loved ones prefer it. You can take the 5 Love Language Quiz (and get your partner to as well) to find out your primary love language. The questions are non-threatening and non-judgmental and importantly, there is no right or wrong answer.
The value comes in understanding yourself and your loved ones, and being able to respond to each other’s needs in a way which makes you both feel good.
Below are some ways in which you can apply this great framework to your financial relationship.
For some people, receiving gifts is what makes them feel most loved. Visual love symbols are important to these people; something they can hold in their hand and know the gift giver was thinking of them when they bought it.
This is the love language most tied to money. Importantly, to be an effective gift giver, you need to check in with your own relationship with money first.
If you find it easy to spend money, buying gifts for others to show your love will come naturally. However, it’s important to realise that if your partner’s primary language of love isn’t receiving gifts, your lavish gifts could be money down the drain and leave you feeling upset by their lack of appreciation.
Remember that gifts can be expensive or they can be free, and they can come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need to spend huge amounts of money to be a great gift giver. Often the most thoughtful gifts don’t cost a penny but have sentimental meaning, such as a stone from the beach to remind you of a memorable date you enjoyed together or a love note.
If you are someone who is naturally frugal, it can feel uncomfortable giving gifts because it requires you to move out of your financial comfort zone. In this instance, think of your relationship like compound interest – invest a small amount regularly and the love will grow exponentially over time. Like compound interest, it isn’t so much about how much you put in, but about starting early, being consistent over time and staying committed.
Words of Affirmation
One way to express love emotionally is to use words that build someone up. Chapman says that many couples have never learned the tremendous power of verbally affirming each other. This holds true when it comes to finances; money is still taboo, even within relationships, so we just don’t talk about it enough.
If your partner responds best to words of affirmation, they will love it if you communicate verbal compliments in simple, straightforward statements such as ‘Thank you for sorting out the car insurance. We’re both busy and I want you to know that I really appreciate you doing that.’ For additional bonus points, you can thank them for something they do routinely and wouldn’t expect to be complimented for.
Words of encouragement also fall into this category. Firstly you need to understand what is important to your partner so that you can show encouragement, credit and praise. Take the time to discuss their financial goals and your joint goals, and then praise them for hitting milestones along the way.
Don’t put off conversations about your finances. When you do connect to talk money, think deeply about the words that come out of your mouth to ensure that what you say is honest, specific and deserved, and be very conscious of the tone in which you speak.
If you recognise that you aren’t necessarily very good at giving your partner what they need through what you say, find a financial coach for them to work with who will encourage them verbally during their sessions together. This will be priceless for them.
‘Quality time’ has taken on a new meaning during the pandemic if you have been confined to the same four walls with your loved ones for an extended period. However, when it comes to the languages of love, quality time isn’t about just being in a room with someone, it’s about undivided attention. Not a few minutes of ‘how have your Zoom meetings been?’ between homeschooling and dinner time, but the right kind of time.
When a partner who speaks ‘quality time’ doesn’t get to spend enough time with their partner, their love tank depletes. They can often become outwardly resentful towards whatever it is that is being rewarded with their partner’s time – their job, their social life, their hobby.
Where people can go wrong is to assume that simply being in the same room as someone, maybe snuggled up on the sofa, is enough. This isn’t quality time; you’ve likely got the TV on or your phone in your hand quietly checking social media or browsing the internet. Your focussed attention is what is needed to fill up that love bucket.
Start by putting together a list of things which you know your partner enjoys and you can do together, which will give each other your undivided attention. If you are trying to save money, make this a list of free things. Have this list handy – maybe in a jar – so that instead of defaulting to doing something that is going to cost money, you have free options ready.
Timetabling a regular ‘money date’ will ensure that you have time together dedicated to talking through your finances together in a structured way, re-visiting your budget and checking in on your goals.
The purpose of these activities is to simply spend time together and to walk away feeling that your partner cares about you so much that they are willing to do something with you which you enjoy and makes you feel loved.
To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch. This love language has the least relevance in a financial context but if it’s your partner’s primary way to want to receive love, it can be easy to weave this into how you spend and manage your money together.
People are always more careful about spending money with cold hard cash than they are with credit cards. Buying a partner some practical cash envelopes to manage their budget will help them stick to it far more easily than relying on online budgeting apps. They will appreciate the hands on approach to managing their money.
Acts of Service
For these people, actions speak louder than words. Showing love through acts of service is all about doing things you know your partner would like you to do. In everyday life this could be emptying the dishwasher or taking the bins out.
When it comes to finances, this can take on many forms. We all know the list of household financial chores can be lengthy; paying bills, completing tax returns, switching utility providers to get the best deals, arranging insurances.
The key here is to focus on the things which your partner really doesn’t want to do, and do those to show your love. For many people, there are financial chores which sit on their to do list for a long time but never get completed; taking out life protection or income protection, setting up a pension or maybe writing a will. Ask your partner what is on their to do list, find out what is top of the priority list, take the responsibility from them and complete the task.
Taking the time to understand your love language and that of your partner enables you to receive love in a way that truly makes you feel loved, and reciprocate love in a way which meets your partner’s needs. Use this framework to change the way you approach finances in your relationship and watch the friction around money disappear.