Advice – How should I talk about finances with my non-nesting partner?

At what point does it become acceptable to discuss finances and financial planning/management with non-nesting partners?

I’ve been with one of my partners for about 2 years now. We both have primary spouses that we live with, though we spend a fair bit of time together as well. We are not primary logistically but we are primary emotionally and sexually.

As we approach middle age, I have some concerns about how my partner is managing money. I want to discuss it with them, help them budget and ensure they are saving for retirement. There have been money problems in the past.

But I feel like since I’m not the nesting partner and we have no shared finances that it’s not my “place” to have these kinds of discussions or help in that way. I’m afraid to bring it up.

What do you all think?

Anonymous, Reddit.

Dear Anonymous,

Your reticence and reservation about discussing financial standing is valid and real. There are a couple different reasons why you could feel this way.

It could be that it is a simple manifestation of general anxiety folks often feel about discussing finance. We as part of western society have made it louche to talk about money, and often are made to feel embarrassed to talk about how much money we have or make. It could also be a different manifestation of internalized guilt many non-monofolks feel about the legitimacy of our non-primary relationships. And that fear can also be a personal reflection of the type of financial decisions your non-nesting partner has made in the past. As in, it could reflect negatively on your own financial situation to be associated with someone who previously made bad financial decisions. While your deeper machinations are unclear, it is clear that you see this as a potentially vulnerable discussion.

And it can be.

Interweaved into this future discussion about your partner’s finances are more fundamental discussions about long-term planning. Of course those feel vulnerable. They are deep, personal, and incredibly revealing. It is their nature to be vulnerable. But it doesn’t mean that it should be avoided either.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

One of the biggest advantages of monogamy is that there is an expansive wealth of examples to draw experience from.

It is easy to envision what the process of dating might look like in a monogamous context because much of popular media has already covered what that is supposed to look like. But it isn’t like that in non-monogamy. There is no good example for us non-mono folks to defer to when thinking about how to discuss finances with our non-primary partners. We sort of have to pave our own path in many of our unorthodox choices.

I believe that there is a more fruitful discussion to be had about your internal desire and intention to have this discussion with your non-nesting partner. It could be that you are coming from a place to help your partner set their financial vision in order. Because you feel very well-equipped in handling your own finances, you want to utilize your strengths to improve different aspects of your partner’s life. It could be that you sense this discussion about finances as a visible next step in the relationship escalator that you want to address with your partner. It could also be possible that you have finally gathered enough trust and insight in your relationship with this specific partner that you want to cash in on those trust-reserves to have the vulnerable discussions you want to have about their finances.

Whatever your internalized reason is, set them aside to think about how they might feel about and react to your desire to talk about finances. While you can’t truly estimate how their reaction is going to be, you might have a better idea than I do around the type of programming they might have to detangle or the shame they might feel about their past money problems.

If you still feel that it is beyond a reasonable assessment that a discussion about finances is well in order, then start thinking about your “in.”

And by “in”, I mean to think about how you are going to initiate this conversation. It could be just straight and frank starter that sounds a bit like, “So I have been thinking a lot about how I want to plan financially for the future lately, and I am curious about where your headspace is at.” Or you can try to anticipate for an opportunistic “in” by waiting for the right moment or conversational context to discuss financial planning.

One of the best ways I have found to have those uncomfortable discussions is by playing the “What If” game. So for example, it came up in one of my previous relationships that we never actually talked about what would happen if my partner got pregnant (in the case of failed protection). We started by talking about different hypothetical scenarios without actually being in it, such as possibility of meddled parenthood, prohibitive healthcare costs, and health complications. That particular conversation made us both feel really vulnerable because we each had other nesting partners. So we took some time after the discussion to reconnect and become whole again. Perhaps that could be an approach you can use to open this dialogue with your partner.

The last suggestion I have for you is to have this discussion be a part of a monthly check-in with this partner. I talked a bit about the immense value of having a regular check-in with a partner in a column from last year here.

Whatever you decide to do, you can also take this opportunity to also question what you perceive as is and isn’t your place.

There were some very intriguing rhetoric in your post about what parts of your relationship with this partner was primary and what was not. It could be that these words and labels bear power and allow both you and this partner to describe your relationship in a way that others can better understand.

But as you have discovered in this particular experience, nesting these discussions around conditions can be problematic. In your case, it appears that you nested the ability to have discussions around finances around the condition that you must share finances. It might be worth your time to dissect and reflect on why that condition exists.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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