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Invest in Your Relationship by Talking about Money

Some people find it tacky to talk about money in the context of love. They say, “All you need is love, love is priceless, and love conquers all.” Our cultural milieu tells us that if we are worried about money then we must be greedy, selfish, or shallow. Many of us listen to these messages and-- rather than talking about money with our beloved-- avoid the subject altogether, figuring that with strong love, practical concerns like income, debt, expenses, and spending habits will resolve themselves. 

In reality, money matters in relationships. For example, in a recent longitudinal study of 483 individuals who were living together but not yet married, couples were more likely to break-up when there were financial disagreements in the relationship.1 Here are just a few examples of financial issues on which members of a couple might disagree:

  • How much money will we save each month?
  • How much credit card debt are we comfortable having? 
  • Who will be in charge of paying the bills each month? 
  • Are we willing to go into debt to go on vacation? 
  • How much money are we willing to spend each month in restaurants?

Interestingly, disagreements about other issues such as sex, household chores, and how much time to spend together, did not predict break-up. Research suggests that when we feel the stress of financial strain, our interactions with our partner become more negative, which in turn leads to a decrease in relationship satisfaction and an increase in relationship instability.2 

If you are considering making a change in your relationship that would tie your finances to those of your partner, then you need to buck up (pun intended). Your personal well-being, and that of your relationship, depend on it. Invest in your relationship by investing time and effort to discuss your couple finances. 

How might a couple go about doing so? In an overview article written for clinicians who work with couples experiencing financial strain, Falconier and Epstein2 describe a procedure for assessing relationships. Among other things, they encourage clinicians to assess each partners’ beliefs about how things “should be” regarding financial roles and money management, seeking to identify areas of agreement and disagreement between the beliefs of the individuals. Of course, relationship therapy can help you achieve this same awareness in your own relationship. So, too, can a little ol’ fashion self-reflection and communication.

First, to help you and your partner identify possible bumps in the financial road, independently complete a money personality inventory, such as the one available here. Sit down together to compare answers. Do you see places where your responses are wildly divergent? Can you imagine what it might be like, for instance, to manage household income with someone who loves budgeting if you hate budgeting? While there aren’t any right or wrong answers to this inventory, observing significant discrepancies between your and your partner’s answers signal money issues your relationship may face.

Second, talk to your partner. Easier said than done, right? Christina Cobb, a contributor to YoungMoney.com, has made the task easier by spelling out five conversations we should have with our partners before merging our financial lives. The topics range from spending and saving, income, debt damage, shared goals, and joint money management strategies. Cobb shares specific questions to ask during each of these conversations, along with an explanation for why these issues matter. It is worth your time to have these conversations with your partner before merging your finances. And, if you could use a little help navigating the potholes, consider meeting with a couples therapist, a financial counselor, or both.

Money means different things to different people. Our money-focused beliefs, values, and habits may not correspond perfectly with those of our partner. Working together now to develop a shared strategy for dealing with money can help you avoid future financial disagreements and relationship stress. You owe it to yourself, your partner, and your relationship to talk early and often about household finances.

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.

1Dew, J. (2011). Financial issues and relationship outcomes among cohabiting individuals. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Applied Family Studies, 60(2), 178-190. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2010.00641.x 

2Falconier, M. K., & Epstein, N. B. (2011). Couples experiencing financial strain: What we know and what we can do. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Applied Family Studies, 60(3), 303-317. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2011.00650.x

Dr. Debra Mashek - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Mashek's work bridges many disciplines by examining (a) the experience of feeling too close to intimate others, (b) confusing the self with close others, and (c) the psychological distress experienced by jail inmates with competing allegiances to the criminal community and to the community at large.

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Reader Comments (1)

Considering that most couples will divorce within 5 years because of money this is pretty good advice. How you approach it is also some really good advice we got from a the book http://www.themarriagepurse.com/. I especially found it useful when we set up "dates" versus a grumpy meeting of our finances. Bring light to the conversation, pop a bottle of wine and have at it. It doesn't have to be stressful since you're really setting up a common goal.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin
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