And it can easily lead to conflict or become an overwhelming obstacle.
For instance, couples often clash when one likes to spend and the other likes to save. It’s a common financial conflict psychotherapist Christina Steinorth, MFT, sees at her office.
Another common clash is when one partner isn’t comfortable with debt while the other one is perfectly OK with it, said Steinorth, author of the book Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships. Some people strongly believe that you shouldn’t buy something until you can afford it. Others don’t mind having car payments and credit card debt.
These kinds of financial conflicts can destroy even the best relationships, Steinorth said. So what can you do?
Talk about it. According to Steinorth, before combining finances and advancing your relationship, talk about your views and values surrounding money. Spend as much time ironing out the details of your financial future as you would your wedding, she said.
“When I do premarital counseling with couples, I urge them to talk about their financial future in as much length and detail that they do their wedding planning — that’s how important it is.”
Here are Steinorth’s tips on communicating about money and navigating potential financial conflicts.
- “Be honest about your financial situation.” Let your partner know about any debt or financial problems you have.
- Figure out how you’ll divide the bills and who’s responsible for what.
- Consider if you’ll only pay cash or also use credit.
- Decide if you’ll set a maximum amount that you can spend without consulting each other.
- Set a detailed budget. Steinorth suggested including everything from food to leisure time to luxuries to car, home and health insurance.
- Set financial goals together. “When you set goals as a couple, both of you will be invested in making sure those goals are met,” Steinorth said. For instance, would you like to pay off your mortgage or student loans early? Would you like to take a big getaway every year? Would you like to have zero credit card debt? “Whatever your goals are, you will have a much easier time achieving them if you work toward them together.”
- Talk about what you’ll do if one of you loses their job or can’t work.
- Consider how you’ll manage existing assets. For instance, will you add your partner to your titles and deeds? “[Y]ou can add your partner as a beneficiary to your assets if you would like, but if you add your partner’s name to titles, deeds and other assets that you hold, it’s possible that if things don’t work out that your partner will be entitled to half of what you’ve added his or her name to.”
- Think seriously about co-signing. As Steinorth said, “Love relationships may not last forever, but any comingled or cosigned debt will last forever until you pay it off.”
- Consider if you’d like your partner to sign a prenuptial agreement. If they don’t want to sign it, is this a deal breaker for you?
- Decide whether you’ll have separate accounts or a joint account. According to Steinorth, there’s no right or wrong answer. It will differ for every couple. When you’re deciding what to do, consider how much debt each of you has. If you don’t have much debt, are you OK with paying for some of your partner’s credit card bills, student loans and maybe even mortgage? Also, “If you decide to have a prenuptial agreement and decide to have joint finances, will each of you contribute the same amount of money to your joint finances?”
When it comes to money, love doesn’t conquer all. As Steinorth said, it’s important to be realistic and to talk about your financial situation. Work through financial issues together. And, if you can’t find effective solutions for your problems, consider seeking professional help.