Talking to Your Partner About Money and Debt
Whether you’re just starting a new romantic relationship, are considering tying the knot or have been married for years, you’ve likely discovered conversation topics that you would prefer to avoid. Money and debt are often at the top of our personal “do not discuss” list, which can lead to major problems down the road. In a recent study of divorced individuals, 36.1% of them reported that financial problems were a big contributing factor to their divorce.
Talking with your partner about debt and finances may feel embarrassing or uncomfortable, but it’s a huge step that can help strengthen your relationship and solve problems before they get out of hand.
Why You Need to Have “The Money Talk”
It’s easy to pretend that finances and feelings are separate, but psychology reveals that the opposite is true. Money brings up emotions like envy, fear, guilt and shame. How much (or how little) of it we have can greatly affect our mental health.
Each of us has a unique financial story. How money shaped our childhood and values, spending and credit history, income, goals and aspirations all play a part in how we view our finances. Pair your views, debts and bank account with another person’s views, debts and bank account, and you’re very likely to find areas that clash.
While it may be tempting to sweep all of your financial differences under the rug, it’s important to address them early on and often. Talking about money is especially important if a wedding is in your future, as marriage will likely affect your finances.
Tips for Starting the Conversation
Although there isn’t a perfect plan for talking about money with your loved ones, there are ways you can improve your discussion. Here’s our best advice for when you’re ready to have “the talk”:
Schedule the Time and Place:
Unless you’re hoping to spend time in the dog house, it’s best not to bring up big money talks in public or on the fly. Set aside an hour where you can sit down with your partner for a private chat. Maximize your productivity by limiting distractions from kids, pets and electronics. Set an end time and schedule the next talk later. You won’t be able to work through every financial topic in one sitting, and that’s perfectly fine! Take your time and handle each talk in bite-sized pieces.
Know (and Share) the Whole Picture:
It’s difficult to plan for your future together if you don’t know what your loved one is bringing to the table. How much income are you and your partner bringing in? What do you each owe? What do you currently have and share? Take the time to answer these questions, and be sure to update each other as debts are paid off and incomes change. Don’t forget to record your joint financial information in a secure place that both of you can access later.
Discuss More Than the Present:
How was money handled in your home growing up? What are your values around money? What do you dream of spending your money on as you get older? Understanding each other’s experiences and values can give you a better perspective on your partner’s relationship with money. Ask your partner about their past relationships with finances and how they envision the future.
Know Each Other’s Strengths and Weaknesses:
You might shine when it comes to managing your household budget. Your partner, on the other hand, may be better at handling your long-term debt repayment strategy. Know where each of you excel and work together to tackle your finances as a team.
To Combine or Not to Combine:
Although many couples choose to combine their finances, you may feel more comfortable keeping them separate. You, for example, might be attempting to protect your partner from taking on your debt. Or maybe your partner combined their finances in a previous relationship and it ended poorly. Whatever your reasoning, take the time to have an honest discussion about whether or not to merge your finances. Consider consulting with a financial advisor if necessary.
Secret spending, hidden bank accounts or debts, or lying about your income are often considered financial infidelities. These can be just as damaging to your relationships as physical infidelities. Be open with your partner about your finances and address problems as soon as they occur.
Agree to Disagree, but Work Towards Common Ground:
You may not agree on everything when it comes to money, but many differences can be handled with compromise. Bigger financial priorities and goals, like how much to spend on children or whether or not to start a business, will take longer discussions. Fortunately, you can easily find ways to meet in the middle when it comes to smaller spends. If your budget allows for it, consider setting aside an equal amount of “fun money” for both you and your partner. Every month, without judgement, you can each use your share to pay for whatever you want. That way, your partner can use that fund for their favorite hobby while you use your share for that new shirt. Both of you both can enjoy a monthly reward that makes you happy.
Your money and debt conversations won’t always go smoothly, and that’s okay. Having discussions with your partner about finances can ultimately help strengthen your relationship and trust in one another. By listening closely to your loved one and being honest, you can work together to build a strong financial future that can be enjoyed together.