Let’s face it. When you’re head over heels in love, there are way more interesting things to talk about than money. Your dreams. Your common interests. The joy that fills your heart when you look at the one you love. If you even notice any differences in how you and your partner approach finances, who cares? Love conquers all, right?
Except research shows that it doesn’t.
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Multiple studies conducted over several decades conclude that differences over finances are a precursor to divorce; some name it the second predictor of divorce following infidelity. And it doesn’t matter how much money you have. Being wealthy doesn’t make you immune to money challenges in your relationship. But being in debt can certainly exacerbate the problem. Nearly two-thirds of married couples start out in debt. Paying for a dream wedding may put them there. And so can student loans.
But some couples do manage to rise above financial differences—and even financial crises—in their marriages. How do they do it? It turns out communication is the key.
"But Talking About Money Is Hard!"
It sure is. Many of us have been raised to believe that financial matters are very private and that talking about them is downright impolite. We’re not apt to introduce the subject, particularly at the beginning of a relationship. We may watch and feel critical about our beloved’s spending habits, but we stifle the urge to comment. It’s none of our business, we tell ourselves. And that may be true in a casual relationship.
But intimacy is based on sharing our feelings. And most people have strong feelings about money. Avoiding the topic of money is a barrier to intimacy—the very thing we are seeking when we set our sights on a long-term relationship or marriage. So as awkward as the discussion might be initially, couples who want the most out of their relationships need to talk about money. The good news is that it gets easier the more practice you have.
Why Should You Talk About Money in Your Relationship?
Talking about money depends on what stage you’re at in your relationship. In the early dating cycle, you may want to talk to your partner about who pays the check for dinner out. Voice your opinion. If you’re more comfortable splitting the tab, say so. If your date insists on going to upscale restaurants you can’t comfortably afford to visit, speak up. There may be an income disparity between you and your partner. Figure out whether not paying part of the bill feels okay to you. Some people would rather maintain their financial independence even if it means missing out on some delicious meals and fancy cocktails.
As you and your partners’ lives grow more intertwined, you’re in a position to notice how compatible your lifestyles are. That’s true across many choices, whether you like to sleep with the window open or shut or prefer traveling over staycations. The lifestyle you choose is dictated, in part, by how you feel about spending money. So the topic of spending and saving should come up pretty naturally as you share your lives together. Once again, it’s important not to hide your feelings. Put them out on the table.
Some people fear that if they ask about their partner’s attitude toward money, their questions will be perceived as criticism. But it’s possible to talk about money in a neutral and nonjudgmental way. Focus on expressing your own feelings. For example, “That’s a waste of money” won’t go over as well as “I worry about overspending.” Your statement can be the start of an essential conversation about the values and beliefs that motivate you and your partner.
Don’t forget: differences don’t spell the end of a relationship. In many cases, differences make relationships energizing and lead us to grow into our best selves. Your partner’s perspective on money might teach you something important about yourself and how you will navigate finances as a couple.
Related reading: “How to Improve Communication to Create a Drama-Free Marriage.”
More Serious Relationship, More Serious Conversations about Money
If you’re ready to take the step of moving in together or marrying, it’s time to get more granular about finances. Here are just a few of the topics you’ll want to address with your partner:
- Will we intermingle our finances? Will we have a shared bank account, for example, or maintain separate accounts? Many couples have both independent and shared accounts.
- How much can each of you contribute to household expenses each month? Knowing how much money is available to manage expenses is critical in effective budgeting.
- How much debt do you have? This subject is a big one! Too many couples go into marriage without talking about debt and wind up blindsided by the amount of debt their partners carry. Hiding debt from a partner is very common.
Secrecy is a corrosive behavior that can lead to serious mistrust, which can shake your relationship to its foundation. So get specific when it comes to debt. Does each of you have open credit accounts and student loans? How much will each of you have to spend to meet your obligations? Carrying debt is expensive—particularly if you have trouble making your payments on time.
- What are your financial goals? Do you want to buy a home together, for example? You’ll need to save for a down payment and consider mortgage costs at the very least. Which leads you to the question of your saving habits as a couple and what are the best savings accounts in the current market. Working towards a savings goal together not only feels good, but it’s also a lesson in trust and accountability.
Having Children Changes Everything!
The question of whether each of you wants to have children often comes up naturally as a couple gets to know each other. If it doesn’t surface in your relationship, it’s a conversation you simply must have. Differences concerning childrearing can have a profound effect on your relationship. They can lead to disappointment that’s hard to overcome. So be sure you have a frank discussion about your expectations about having babies. And make sure your goals align.
Having children has financial responsibilities, of course. Moms and dads want to keep their kids happy and safe. But make no mistake: having kids is expensive. What kind of life or opportunities do you want to provide for your kids? Music lessons? Family vacations and travel? A college education? Be sure you set a savings goal that accounts for all of those costs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a middle-class family will spend around $270,000 to raise a child to age 18. But that figure doesn’t encompass rising inflation or all of the expenses you’ll have when you have kids, such as childcare costs if you both work. Buying life insurance for one or both parents to ensure your children will be protected and financially secure is another expense that is often overlooked.
Regardless if you choose to have children, it’s vital to talk about money as a couple.
If you’re having a hard time talking about money with your partner—or even imagining how you’d broach the subject—talking to a financial advisor might be a good move. They will know all the right questions to ask and take an objective, non-judgmental approach to a money conversation. And this neutral party can also develop a strategy for setting and meeting your financial goals. Think of this meeting as an icebreaker and a learning experience.
If you need even more encouragement to motivate you to talk about money as a couple, here’s one more reason—perhaps, the best! Talking about money—and talking about it often—your relationship is likely to be happier. A study published by North Carolina State University found that couples who talk about money often report they’re happier than those who don’t. Another survey found that 87% of couples who describe their marriages as “great,” set long-term savings goals together. Talking about your money dreams will sweeten the conversation, and you’ll build a healthier and happier marriage.
Get some practice talking about finances with the one you love. It can only strengthen the bond you share.