Money: Too Often a Red Flag for Couples
Call it money issues, financial trouble, money stress, or financial disagreements, they are all red flags in a long-term relationship if they are not resolved. Money is often one of the top reasons for divorce. So acting on financial conversations, investing in a Money Remodel so to speak, BEFORE getting married or deciding to stay in a committed relationship can definitely give you better financial health in the long run. Whether you are contemplating marriage or a long-term relationship commitment or have a family member/friend who is, take a minute to read and/or share these three pieces of advice.
I think we all agree, communication is key in relationships. Money is one of those areas we need to prioritize communicating about and maybe you could use a Money Remodel to improve this area of your relationship. Therefore, communication is the theme of my three tips, and they are best accomplished in this order as one can build on the other.
Tip #1: Reminisce about Childhood
Before talking about any current details or situations regarding finances, it can be extremely helpful to start with understanding each other’s origin of your unique money personality.
Maybe over lunch, or toasting a glass of wine, or relaxing at the end of a day, you begin by sharing money memories from growing up. How did your parents handle finances in the family? Do you have any specific stories related to money from your childhood? What did you think about money as a child vs. now? Again, this is a discussion for calmly reminiscing, not to bring up in the heat of a money-related argument.
A Relationship Thermostat
Research indicates that your Relationship Thermostat is set by around age seven. That means your relationship with people, food, and money was imprinted before your brain was even able to fully understand or intentionally filter and analyze situations. It is helpful to realize that during those “sponge” years, you and your partner may have had very different experiences that impacted how you relate to money today.
One gentleman I spoke with shared how he hated not having money for anything he wanted as a child. So he vowed to never feel that way as an adult. Which helped to explain his overspending tendency. Another woman told of washing her money as a child and hanging it to dry, where she could see it and visibly know that she had enough. To this day, she is focused on making sure money is not a scarce resource in her life.
Once you hear your partner’s stories about growing up, childhood money experiences, and current feelings about money, some of his/her actions may make more sense to you. Switching the lens to see today from that other person’s perspective, can be not only an eye-opener but also make it much easier to have empathy when you seem to have two different perspectives on how to handle some financial situations.
Tip #2: Share Past Adult Relationship Experiences
In addition to childhood, financial roles in past adult relationships have also shaped your unique money personality. Maybe it was your role with a parent, sibling, roommate, boyfriend/girlfriend, or spouse/significant other. Research that I often share in my workshops has found that most financial roles between two adults fall into one of three categories:
- Driver and Passenger = only one knows about and makes all financial decisions (yikes!)
- Joined at the Hip = you both discuss and make financial decisions together but only one is the “doer”
- Divide and Conquer = you not only discuss and make decisions together, you also split the duties (the healthiest option of all!)
Which one do you fit into? Or have you experienced more than one? And how about your partner? Making each other aware of how those roles went (the good, the bad and the ugly) actually can be very helpful. Then once you know where you have been, you can decide if you want that to stay in that category or be different going forward, if both parties are willing and able.
Tip #3: Set Some Ground Rules
If you are getting married, you need to bare your financial souls to each other. This is not the time for secrets. Money is best considered “ours” vs “mine” and “yours” in a marriage unless there is a blended family, legal need for separate assets, or some other significant reason. Often in later adulthood, we enter long-term relationships with no intention of getting married. That can be different, but in that case you can still discuss how much you each need to know about each other’s personal finances.
Either way, getting comfortable expressing your thoughts and concerns around money is important. Conversations around spending and paying bills in particular is a discussion you can determine jointly. Your goal is to be fair and transparent to determine a financial practice that is sustainable and agreeable to both of you.
Living Happily Ever After
Living happily ever after often involves reducing financial stress and avoiding money issues. Wouldn’t you wish financial health for every couple? Communication is the best starting point. Since using money wisely is a life skill, it will be an ongoing need. So I wrote a financial checklist bundle for BEFORE and AFTER Marriage, you may want to check it out. With the divorce rate in the United States at 50%, it may seem difficult to beat the odds, but communication is key!
This article was first published at 60 and Me – a community that helps women over 60 live happy, healthy and financially secure lives.