Money is an unavoidable part of life. Whether you have a little or a lot, it’s something that serves as a constant presence in our lives, and dictates many of our biggest decisions.
“As a single adult, managing your money can be hard enough,” says Lindsay Kramer, a marriage and family therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “So when two people bring their finances together, it takes patience and communication to create a scenario that works for both of you.”
Why is money a hot-button topic with couples?
Money can cause conflict in relationships because there are so many nuances of the subject: having or not having it, saving or spending it, overvaluing or undervaluing it. Furthermore, perceptions of money and the way it’s valued can impact men and women differently based on gender roles and expectations.
Having conflicting money styles and values can lead to decreased marital satisfaction and potentially lead to divorce. A recent study showed that financial problems ranked fifth out of 11 reasons why surveyed couples ended their relationship. These couples identified money as contributing to “increased stress and tension,” ultimately leading to divorce.
How to manage money stress in a relationship
While fights over finances can put a strain on a relationship, they don’t have to break you. Kramer offers the following nine tips to keep your bank account, and conversations about it, in check:
1. Talk about money before you say “I do.”
There are many things you should discuss before getting married, but money is arguably one of the most important. In marriage you take on your spouse’s financial footprint, so be sure to discuss each of your expectations for a successful financial future.
2. Set financial goals together.
Decide on the types of goals you want to work toward as a couple. This could be saving more and spending less, paying off a house or setting aside money to invest. Regardless of the financial goal, relationships do better when there is a shared agreement.
3. Play on one another’s strengths.
Don’t set yourselves up for failure by delegating financial roles that aren’t realistic. For instance, if one person in the relationship is better at saving, while the other is better at paying bills, maximize on your individual skillsets and don’t switch roles.
4. Don’t hide spending or debt.
Be open and honest about your spending habits. This includes what debt you’re bringing into the relationship. Couples often try to avoid conflict by hiding unnecessary expenditures and debt, yet this will only lead to financial repercussions and a lack of trust.
5. Financial talk should be a running dialogue.
It isn’t always fun to talk about money, but having a continuous conversation about it can help you stay connected and avoid confusion. Treat money like a welcome, ever-evolving part of a relationship, instead of a scary subject that’s to be avoided at all costs.
6. Invite an app into the relationship.
Gone are the days of ledgers and checkbooks. Financial apps can help you monitor spending, budget and invest. Many have helpful tools that make suggestions based on your goals and spending patterns.
7. Keep yourselves accountable.
Even the most committed financial planner will slip here and there. The key is to look to each other to stay on track. Remember to show compassion and support, rather than judgement and frustration — there’s no room for resentment in a relationship.
8. Remember that money isn’t everything.
Research on marriage has shown that couples who are materialistic rate at the bottom of the happiness scale. Placing more value on appearances and “stuff” can be a vicious cycle that gives us unrealistic (and empty) expectations of what happiness actually is.
9. Use tools that make relationships successful.
When it comes down to it, money is just one area in life, yet it requires the same components that contribute to happiness in a relationship: trust, honesty, openness and compromise. Remember to use the tools you already have in your relationship toolbox.
To merge or not to merge?
A big question in relationships is whether or not to combine bank accounts. According to Kramer, most trusted financial sources say yes. In theory, committing yourself to a person should include a commitment to a shared financial vision. Plus, merging accounts reduces confusion about where money is coming from, and who’s paying for what.
However, every relationship and financial situation is different. The best plan of action is open communication and finding a strategy that works for you.
“Relationships are successful when both parties are willing, flexible and open to giving and receiving feedback,” says Kramer. “Discussing money is no different. Plan ahead, predict the preventable and use these discussions as opportunities for growth.”