Money is one of the most common sources of conflict in a relationship. So it should come as no surprise that a recent Bankrate survey found that almost a quarter (23 percent) of Americans in relationships are keeping a financial secret from their partner.
Keeping money-related secrets, or avoiding talking about money altogether, can lead to resentment, mistrust and ultimately the end of a relationship. Here’s how you can approach the topic with your significant other and how it can help your relationship.
The importance of communicating about finances
Talking about money is essential because it helps ensure that both partners are on the same page when it comes to finances. Many couples have shared goals and bank accounts and may depend on one another financially.
According to a survey by Fidelity, about one-fifth of couples say money is their greatest relationship challenge, and 44 percent say they argue about money at least occasionally.
But those numbers vary when communication is factored in. Of those who say they communicate well about finances, 84 percent say money is not their greatest relationship challenge. Only 59 percent of those who didn’t report good communication say the same.
Whether you’re discussing debt, saving for retirement or deciding how much to spend on a vacation, being open and honest about financial goals and concerns can help you make better decisions together.
Moreover, talking about money can strengthen trust and prevent misunderstandings. It’s easier to avoid unnecessary fights — say, about a surprise expense on your bank statement — when financial decisions and needs have been clearly communicated.
How to talk about finances in a relationship
We’re often taught that money is a private matter. Talking about it can feel taboo, creating discomfort or fear of judgment when discussing finances. It might be helpful to begin by opening up about those fears or discomforts.
“Before actually talking about money, express what’s going on when you think about the act of having that conversation with someone,” says Tara Unverzagt, CFP, CFT-I, founder of South Bay Financial Partners in Torrance, California. “Often people are scared, feel shame or guilt, etc.”
Getting those feelings out can make the conversation more comfortable and honest.
If it’s your first time having a serious conversation about finances in the relationship, it’s a good idea for each partner to lay out their individual financial situations.
“Starting with a net worth statement that shows assets and liabilities allows for both spouses to understand where they are starting from on a factual basis,” says Tim Melia, CFP, MBA, founder of Embolden Financial Planning in Seattle. “This is really important when one spouse deals more with the finances than the other.”
As your finances become more entwined, both partners can work together to ensure that important money conversations are had regularly and decisions are made with mutual understanding. One way to keep those conversations active is to create and follow a budget together, says Jamie Lima, CFP, CDFA, founder of Woodson Wealth Management in Ramona, California.
“Work together to create a budget that reflects both of your financial goals and priorities,” he says. “This will help ensure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to managing your money.”
In addition to a budget, setting goals together can be valuable for maintaining financial communication. “Whether it’s saving for a down payment on a house or paying off debt, setting financial goals together can help you stay motivated and focused on your shared future,” Lima says.
If you find yourselves with many shared bills, expenses and savings goals, it may also be worthwhile to consider opening a joint bank account.
Common financial issues to address
Here are some strategies for addressing specific financial issues in a relationship:
- Debt management: If one or both partners have debt, you may want to create a plan together to pay it off. Consider consolidating debts or working with a financial planner.
- Income disparities: When one partner earns more than the other, it can make it more difficult to address financial issues together. It’s important to discuss how to divide expenses and manage finances fairly, so that one partner isn’t put in a position of feeling pressured to spend beyond their means.
- Different attitudes toward spending and saving: If one partner is a spender and the other is a saver, discuss finding ways to compromise or consider keeping your finances more separate, rather than having all finances in joint accounts.
- Planning for the future and financial emergencies: Discuss your long-term financial goals, and consider establishing an emergency savings fund together.
Talking about money in a relationship can come with a lot of baggage, but it’s crucial for building trust, understanding and a healthy financial future. Couples who have good communication about money have fewer fights about the topic and may be less likely to feel the need to keep secrets from one another. As you become more comfortable talking about finances in the relationship, you can strengthen your bond and make headway in your shared financial goals.