The pursuit of love and money may be universal, but it can be rare to find both, and rarer still for the two to coexist in harmony. After all, losing money for love and vice versa is the stuff of great stories because almost all of us can relate.
One of the most common of these stories is the sometimes-tragedy of divorce, in which a happy union is marred and ultimately ruined by the couple’s inability to communicate and jointly manage money matters.
As with most things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To prevent misunderstandings over money or its mismanagement from ruining your marriage, having “the money talk” is essential.
The Money Talk Defined
At its most basic level, the money talk is a frank and open discussion between two partners about their respective philosophies on spending and saving, their habits, and their entire financial picture. The money talk isn’t necessarily easy. It requires a commitment by both partners not to judge the other and to make a point of sharing their money mistakes, shortcomings, and vulnerabilities. It can also require a heavy dose of courage. For example, if you have an issue paying bills on time or have accumulated massive credit card debt, the time to talk about it is now.
Being clear about your struggles allows both of you to effectively deal with them, while trying to hide problems will only delay your partner finding out about them and will likely maximize the damage. Once everything is out in the open, the two of you can devise a plan to reach your mutual goals, help each other accomplish individual goals, and establish mutual responsibilities. Most importantly, by being apprised of what you have to look out for — your respective problems with money — you’re better positioned to keep problems at bay or prevent them entirely.
Reasons to Have the Money Talk
1. Create a Unified Front
When you know where you each stand in relation to money and what you both bring (good and bad) to the partnership, you can assess your joint assets and liabilities, as well as where your goals align and where they conflict. This empowers you to identify and nip potential problems in the bud by working out compromises before they blow up.
For example, if one of you is a spender and the other a saver, you can establish spending limits and savings goals that you both agree to abide by. The information you gain and compromises you make give you the goods to put together the skeleton of a financial plan. Such a plan will incorporate saving for an emergency fund, saving for retirement, or possibly paying down debt and saving for a home. You may want to bring a professional on board to help with the details and implementation of your financial plan.
Additionally, you should use the knowledge you gain to create a monthly and annual budget, as well as your individual money responsibilities. Schedule regular (monthly) money meetings to check your budget and your progress. Just like the initial money talk, these discussions must be frank and transparent in order to prevent and address problems. An active and honest approach to money will keep the two of you on the same page and thereby empower you to accomplish whatever you set your sights on.
2. Minimize Conflicts
The money talk and regular money meetings can blast open the lines of communication between the two of you. While not every single conflict is based in misunderstanding, most are. More specifically, since you’ve established rules to follow (a budget) and mutual responsibilities (paying specific bills), you each know what’s expected of you and to stay within agreed-upon boundaries regarding your financial behavior and habits.
3. Fortify Your Relationship
When you make a regular habit of being open and honest and practice not judging your partner for his or her mistakes, you build trust and practice vital communication skills that will help you through any obstacles you may face. Not only that, but in providing and receiving support in spite of your flaws, you and your partner will each feel more comfortable broaching other sensitive topics.
Money is one of the leading causes of divorce in this country, and by just winging it, your risk of becoming yet another unfortunate statistic is high. To reiterate, it’s vital to approach your partner and this discussion with patience and acceptance, and to have a little courage yourself. We all have demons and for many of us, those demons have to do with money. If you want to keep yours from ravaging your love life, shine a light on them so you can see exactly what they’re doing and stop problems before it’s too late.
This approach isn’t easy, but the rewards are substantial. And to do it successfully, be prepared to not only love and accept your partner, but more importantly, yourself.
Have you had the money talk with your partner? If not, what are you waiting for?
Holly Mangan is a managing editor for Money Crashers Personal Finance, a resource that discusses important topics such as money management, smart spending, and relationships.