This may come as a surprise, but one of the most common reasons for a divorce is financial incompatibilities. These are often referenced as ‘irreconcilable differences,’ but in reality, it’s mainly an inability to effectively communicate about money and find a way to approach wealth as a team. “The financial stability of a couple is based not mainly on the money they have, but on their actual spending habits,” says double-board certified psychiatrist, Zlatin Ivanov, MD. “In a relationship, two people have to adopt a shared life vision, and a significant part rotates around money matters.”
If you find yourself arguing about bills, shopping trips and savings goals, it’s time to regroup and strategize. Here, marriage experts share their best advice on how to keep your relationship financially stable.
Take the ‘taboo’ out of money talks.
It seems like simple enough advice, but… talk about money! All too often, couples fight over finances, rather than having an open, candid discussion about their financial habits, perspectives, insecurities and goals. Since money can be a big source of stress, and often makes people uncomfortable, many skip the convo entirely. This is a mistake since surprise splurges or debt can throw a wrench into your dynamic. As matchmaker Susan Trombetti explains, when partners communicate, there are no surprises, and both understand what they are trying to achieve.
Marriage and family therapist and the clinical director of Bridge Counseling Associates Merlelynn Harris, M.S., MFT thinks it’s incredible when a couple is courageous enough to decide they are going to discuss these topics together. “It's crucial to have transparent and honest conversations with your partner on how they approach finances now as an adult," she adds.
Address your personal ‘money wounds.’
Harris says everyone has an individual relationship with money. Often, it manifests itself as part of our self-esteem, and thus, we bring any insecurities into our romantic partnership. We can think of these worries as ‘money wounds,’ and credit them to our childhood—regardless if it was a positive or negative upbringing. “Perhaps you were denied certain experiences because your family wasn’t able to afford them, or your parents had an emotional conflict. Or, they used money manipulatively to buy you a new toy rather than addressing the issue,” Harris shares an example. “If money caused a lot of stress for your parents, it’s not uncommon for you as an adult to have subconscious anxiety anytime you have to talk about money.”
Whatever happened in your past, it’s vital to address it, so you don’t bring these preconceived notions into your relationship dynamic. By processing these complicated attachments and emotions, you are more confident when bridging your partner's financial conversations.
Change financial talks from ‘me’ to ‘we.’
When you begin discussing financial stability, Dr. Ivanov says start by committing to changing ‘me’ to ‘we.’ While it’s reasonable for both parties to have personal aspirations, once you combine households, there must be a joint effort toward the expenses, including mortgages or rent, utility bills, and so on. “You both have to choose to act united in many decisions, including financial decisions. If one of them is too self-centered, that can jeopardize their future. There should be a ‘we want’ attitude, not an ‘I want’ mindset,” he explains.
This involves not trying to convince your significant other to adopt your financial habits but finding a compromise where you both are comfortable. “The other person’s happiness comes first when two people unite their lives,” he continues. “Each one has to be completely honest about their dreams, non-negotiables and timelines but also both need to learn to compromise and make a realistic plan. While making the financial plan, it is again of utmost importance to remember you’re a couple now.”
Schedule a regular discussion on finances.
It’s not enough to have a ‘money’ chat once and then never bring it up again, especially since it’s bound to bubble up when something is awry in the future. Trombetti recommends regular, scheduled conversations around finances, where you go over spending, saving, goal-setting, and so on. You can consider this your monthly check-in to access how you’re doing. “Both partners need to be mature enough and honest enough to stick to the plan, or discuss a diversion,” she continues. “There should be money that you are both accountable for as a couple, as well as disposable income that you don't need to discuss, such as spending money. This communication not only can
Make joint financial goals you can meet with compromise.
For those who want to have a family, own a home, run their own business, and retire one day, financial stability is the runway to take off toward your dreams. Since you will be tackling many of these benchmarks as a team, Harris suggests taking time to answer questions about how you view and spend money, your fears, and your timelines. She recommends starting with these questions:
- What are the areas in spending you prioritize? Is it enjoying gourmet meals at high-end restaurants or eating what you need just to get by? Do you want to travel so you are economically-savvy day-to-day and will forego that daily Starbucks?
- What are your long-term goals? Do you want to buy a house? How do you view childcare and providing a private versus public school education? Are you more focused on taking international getaways or preparing for retirement? Harris says even if you’re years away from having kids or decades away from retirement, having those conversations is an essential step in the financial planning process.
- What is your worst-case scenario when it comes to money? Is running out of money meaning going hungry, or feeling embarrassed, being a disappointment or looking irresponsible? “Unpacking those money-related fears can be really revealing,” Harris shares.
Consider hiring a financial planner.
Sometimes, a professional can be your middleman and offer advice on staying financially stable that you both feel comfortable taking. Trombetti suggests hiring someone who is invested in joint finances with software that can demonstrate a strategic timeline. “They can suggest strategies to get you there and give you specifics on when and how. If the money isn't there, then the couple needs to readjust the goals or save more,” she continues. “Money isn't that complicated, but the feelings behind it are, so it's good to see it in black and white. It can be very motivating.”