The longer you’re with a partner, the more you want to know about him or her. From “How many siblings do you have?” to “How many kids do you want?” a long-term relationship is a constant journey of discovery.
But one topic couples tend to avoid is money — at least until certain inevitable questions arise, such as:
- How much do we have?
- How much do we owe?
- How much should we spend?
The key element is the word “we.” Once you and your partner are living together and/or sharing expenses, that word means a reckoning of your financial status is not only unavoidable, but it’s also crucial to the health of your relationship.
Not everyone views money the same way. And those differences — in how each of you spends, saves and manages debt — can make or break the bonds you’ve forged together. Fighting about money is considered a top predictor of divorce, according to Business Insider.
That’s why it’s vital to have “the money talk” with your significant other sooner than later. Whether you’re deciding to get married or making a large investment together, diving into the financial nitty-gritty can prevent money misunderstandings down the road.
Broaching the subject
Given societal taboos and our own fears and insecurities about how much we make and spend, a meeting of the checkbooks may not be easy. Try starting with a relatively safe topic, such as your long-term goals. Be prepared to be a little vulnerable.
Eventually, you’ll want to address such topics as the amount of debt you’re carrying (and your plans for paying it off), your savings or investments, spending habits and budgets, and your individual financial priorities.
Be honest, listen and give your partner the opportunity to do the same. Everyone’s made mistakes, so try to approach these topics from a place of love and forgiveness rather than judgment and blame — toward both your partner and yourself.
Honesty is the best policy.
Honesty is especially important when it comes to debt. Fidelity Investments found that more than half of couples carry debt into their relationships, with an even higher percentage of millennials (74%) and Gen Xers (62%). Of those, four in 10 say it had a negative effect on their relationship.
A Policygenius study put the number of Americans who don’t know how much money their partner makes at 41%. That means at least two in five people don’t know their partner’s salary.
Stay calm. If the conversation gets too heated, take a break. Remember that some conflict in a relationship is normal and healthy. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help to facilitate the conversation, if necessary. Couples that use a financial adviser actually find it easier to start conversations about touchy topics — and tend to be less concerned about money matters overall.
Work on setting common financial goals. If you’ve already combined your finances or are planning to do so, be sure to sit down and create a budget together. At the very least, consider opening a joint checking account for recurring bills and household expenses.
Even if you don’t choose to combine finances, remember that regular communication is key to greater peace of mind as a couple and will help keep the relationship healthy and financially sound — into retirement and beyond.