Money is never a fun topic to discuss with loved ones, be it your friends, family members or your significant other. However, when it comes to ensuring a happy romantic union, experts say it’s a pivotal talking point. “Money is connected to every facet of our lives, from career and leisure to family and overall well-being and it determines what we’re able to do on a daily basis,” explains Maggie Germano, financial coach based in Washington, D.C. “When we discuss money regularly, we can better understand each other, manage the day-to-day with less stress, and set joint goals that allow us to plan for the future.”
If we hold back from discussing financial milestones with our significant other, Germano warns that we risk brushing issues under the rug that can plague the relationship later on. Not talking about money also prevents you from being on the same page and being able to plan ahead for your future. As much as it might seem that holding back on discussing finances might benefit you in the short-term, for example if you’re in the honeymoon phase of your relationship and you’re on a tight budget or are in a bit of debt, Claudia Six, Ph.D., sexologist and author of Erotic Integrity: How to Be True to Your Sexuality, reminds couples to consider what will happen down the line when you get married—i.e. you and your partner are responsible for each other’s debt. “Make sure you are fully informed about how much they owe, their ability to repay their debt, and how that might impact your future together,” she says. “A history of bankruptcy can be cause for shame or secrecy, which creates distance in a couple.”
Although there may not be an ideal time to bring up finances, experts recommend having these types of discussions whenever one of you reaches a big achievement or goal. These goals can be purely financial, like paying off debt or reaching a desired salary, or they can be financially-related, like buying a home or having kids, notes Germano. “It's important to talk about these things early on (and often), so you can make sure that you and your partner agree on the types of goals you want to achieve in life and so that you can help each other get there,” she says.
Dealing with debt.
Debt is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the average American has $90,460 in debt as a result of everything from student and personal loans to mortgages and credit card bills, according to 2019 data from credit bureau Experian. If you’re one of the many people dealing with debt, it’s a good idea to be open about it with your partner so that you can work together to pay it off as a team, notes Germano. “Debt affects how much money is available and where it is going, so it’s important to be honest about it,” she says. When discussing the topic, she recommends being matter of fact about it rather than shaming yourself or allowing any moral judgment to be attached to your debt. “It is what it is and the important part is that you’re taking steps now to pay it off,” she adds.
Planning a wedding.
It’s no surprise that weddings are expensive, but even if you’re planning a small scale wedding on a tight budget, it’s a good idea to be open with your partner and discuss what you’re imagining and how much you feel comfortable spending. “This conversation should ideally happen before the wedding planning begins so that you’re both on the same page,” says Germano. “Wedding planning is stressful enough —you don't want to fight about money when you're already in the thick of it.”
Purchasing a home.
Buying your first home together is a huge financial milestone, but before you start celebrating and taking pictures of the two of you holding the keys, make sure you’ve sat down and had a very serious discussion of where you stand financially both before and after your purchase. “It's important that you and your partner understand what the other person hopes for in this arena, as it takes a lot of money and effort to buy a home, let alone maintaining one, so you'll want to be on the same page so that you can save up and plan together,” says Gemano.
Marissa Nelson, licensed marriage and family therapist, recommends not only being honest from the start, but also coming up with a financial game plan for monthly savings and timeline for making homeownership a reality.
Developing in your professional careers.
As couples continue to grow and build together, so will each person's careers and aspirations, notes Nelson. “Partners need to understand the financial milestone of career advancement, as many times this involves relocation, professional continuing education or certifications,” she says. She recommends considering things like how your cash flow or savings plan will change if one or both of you decide to create your own business venture. “It is important that couples have an awareness of what their professional goals are in the next 5 or 10 years and how they can navigate that as a couple,” she adds.
The stage of your life where you grow and raise a family together is nothing short of magical, but it’s also quite stressful, especially as far as finances are concerned. Therefore, having open conversations from the initial family planning stages and throughout the process of raising your children is integral to your communication. “Some couples may have to spend a lot of money on infertility and IVF treatments, adoption or other assisted reproductive techniques, but even for those who don’t have to spend much during this phase, they have to make serious considerations in regards to the financial cost of childcare and daycare,” says Nelson. “Discussing these things and factoring them into your financial planning helps you create realistic and collaborative solutions as to how this will impact your relationship.”
Coping with divorce.
No couple wants to have this discussion, however, so many wind up having it. In fact, an estimated 50 percent marriages end in divorce, per the American Psychological Association. For this reason, Six recommends becoming familiar with the concept of child support and alimony if one or both of you are divorced. ‘These can be long term dents which will affect your lifestyle and the financial future you can create together,” she says. “They also can be emotionally charged if you have a judgement about them, your partners’ kids or former spouse, allegiances that you feel threatened by.”
Even if you’re just beginning your financial journey together, Nelson recommends thinking about retirement and financial investments. “Merging their portfolios, or having differences as to where and how their money should be saved or invested is a huge financial milestone for a couple,” she says. “The key is making sure that your financial future together is a win-win, so that your decisions and the process of working through your differences bring you closer together and not be a source of anxiety and stress.”