When Frank Sinatra sang the iconic “Love and Marriage” he should have had a whole stanza in there about money and marriage. That’s because finances in a marriage can be a source of great stress, no matter your situation. Unless you are somehow independently wealthy, chances are that you’ve been worried about money at some point in your life. And while single people can sometimes be at a financial disadvantage (no one to split rent or the mortgage with, responsible for buying all the food and furniture, spending thousands of dollars on other people’s life events while getting nothing in return…), finances can take a toll on people in relationships, as well.
In fact, a report from the American Psychological Association found that approximately one-third of adults say that money is a major source of conflict in their relationships. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips for how to talk through money issues with your partner, while keeping your relationship intact.
Don’t wait too long to have that conversation
The early days of a relationship can be pretty magical. You’re both presenting your best selves to the other person, going on fun adventures, and trying to impress each other. And while you probably shouldn’t talk having a joint bank account on a first date, it is something you’re going to want to address once things start to get serious. “Waiting until you have a money-related issue means it’s too late, emotions are high, and rash decisions will likely be made,” Anuj Nayar, financial health officer at LendingClub, tells Business Insider. “Talking openly about your financial expectations helps set the stage for a healthy relationship.”
Start with some hypotheticals
If you’re not sure how to start a conversation about money in a new — or even established — relationship, try broaching the topic with some hypotheticals. Specifically, Allison Kade, a millennial money expert, suggests starting with some “What if” questions. “This way, you can start understanding their underlying psychology by asking broader questions,” she tells Business Insider. These can include queries like “If you won the lotto, what would you do with the money?” and “If you had to choose between working 90-hour weeks for the rest of your career but making a ton of money and working 20-hour weeks but scrimping, which would you choose, and why?” You’ll get an idea of their priorities and the way they think about money without having to, you know, actually talk about real financial issues.
Make sure the timing is right
Talking about financial problems is important, but so is the timing of the conversation. “If one partner seems particularly stressed after work, it might not be the right time to bombard them with bills and deadlines,” Elle Kaplan writes for CNBC. “Finding the right time is crucial to have the most productive conversation. You know your partner better than anyone, so pick a time when you know they’ll be the most receptive. This will make the discussion more productive.”
Be a good listener
Though we’re told that it’s really important to be a good listener in preschool, for some people, that skill doesn’t quite last until adulthood. And while that’s all kinds of trouble, it’s especially problematic when discussing financial issues with your partner. “What’s the point of having a conversation if you’re both distracted and constantly interrupting each other? Instead of making your partner feel defensive or argumentative, let them know you’re completely present. Make eye contact and put the phones away,” Kaplan writes. “Another tip is to repeat back what you heard to your partner from time to time. It shows that you’re paying attention and ensures that you understood them correctly.”
When speaking with a partner about their spending habits, make sure to not come from a place of superiority, instead, per Fatherly, discuss the family’s spending habits and shared financial goals that you can achieve together. This will help build a foundation of actions, budgets, and, most importantly, shared mutual respect. Also, try to understand and listen to why their habits and relationship with money is as it is. Was it something to do with their upbringing?
Statistics on finances and relationships
Research studies and surveys of couples have garnered a lot of attention over the years but none as much as TD Bank’s annual Love & Money Survey, a study it has been running since 2015. In its latest results published in 2019, a survey of 1,753 people who are married, in relationships, or divorced and found the following:
— “31 percent saying they would consider breaking up with their partner if they discovered hidden debt or a bad credit score”
— “59 percent admit to making impulsive money decisions, even when they know it’s irrational”
— “Nearly 40 percent of those ages 23 to 38 admit to fighting about finances at least once a week, up four percent from 2015, while 14 percent of Gen Xers and five percent of baby boomers say they argue about money.”
You’re going to expect your partner to be forthcoming, right? Full disclosure by both parties is the best way to ensure that finances don’t become a point of contention between a couple. If you’re really going to get on the same page, you should start with all of the information: how many bank accounts you have, what your cash flow situation is, if you have debt (and how much), etc. True, you may have some hurdles to overcome after that initial disclosure. But it’s better to face them now than for little “surprises” to keep popping up and sabotaging your relationship.
Have an open mind
Regardless of the stage of your relationship, it’s crucial that both partners keep an open mind — especially when it comes to finances. “We all value money differently. What one person considers a bargain, the other might call expensive,” Kaplan writes. The goal isn’t to judge your partner’s actions and behaviors, it’s to have a clearer understanding of where they’re coming from. A discussion about money is a discussion about values. When you know what your partner values, you can be a bit more compassionate about their decisions. And sometimes, you can simply agree to disagree.”