Talking about money isn’t particularly fun, so a lot of couples ignore this conversation until it’s too late. While having the “money talk” can be intimidating, you won’t regret it. Your relationship will be stronger if you and your partner are on the same page about finances.
According to Marriage.com, money is one of the most common reasons for divorce, second only to infidelity. Money can cause severe and relationship-ending conflict between you and your partner. Whether you’re arguing over spending habits, earnings contributions, or merely what constitutes a reasonable grocery bill, money can cause serious, fundamental rifts in even the most solid relationships.
Here are seven tips for making this difficult conversation more comfortable.
Prioritize Talking About Money
Our first tip is simple: talk to your partner about money. You don’t want to keep secrets in a relationship.
People have different feelings about money, and those feelings depend very much on how openly their parents talked about money when they were growing up. If you were raised in an environment where talking about money was frowned upon, it can be hard to open up on the subject—especially if your partner was not raised the same way.
And that’s exactly where your conversation should start. Before diving into the specifics of your finances, talk about how you each feel about money. And the sooner in your relationship you have this conversation, the better.
If you are in a serious, committed relationship, you should be honest with your partner about how much you earn and what you spend your money on. That doesn’t mean that you need to report every dollar in or out. In fact, we’d argue that every person should have some money that is theirs to spend without oversight.
Still, your partner should have a solid idea of where your finances sit (and vice versa), so there aren’t any surprises if you’re thinking about combining finances or want to make large purchases.
The best way to prioritize talking about money is to start talking about it. Share how much things cost and how much you make. It might feel embarrassing, but the honesty will help make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
Set Aside a Specific Time With No Distractions
A healthy relationship is more than a romantic partnership; it’s also a business partnership, and it helps to treat it like one when it comes to finances.
Pick a day and time when you and your partner can sit down to talk about finances without distractions. The conversation might be awkward, so you don’t want someone showing up unexpectedly or having to end your talk early to do something else.
Even better, schedule regular financial meetings as often as you need them. Once per month should be fine, but in the beginning, you might want to have more frequent meetings while you get your finances sorted out.
Money is uncomfortable to talk about. If you don’t set aside a specific time, you’ll likely keep pushing the conversation aside.
Just as important as setting time aside to talk about money is knowing when not to talk about it. Is it the end of a long day? Have you just had a financial setback and you’re both feeling a bit raw? In-laws paying a surprise visit this weekend and you’re frantically getting ready for that?
Probably not the best times to talk money.
Have Parameters for Your Conversation
Once you and your partner have settled on a time to talk about money, set up some parameters for the conversation. Money touches all aspects of our lives—you can easily spend hours talking about everything from student loan interest to grocery bills to savings accounts for your kids.
Don’t feel like you have to tackle all of these topics in one go. You can break the conversation into pieces to make it easier to digest.
For instance, if you’re living with your partner, your first conversation could be about how to split up household expenses. Who will pay for utilities? Who will pay for groceries? Who will pay for necessities like cleaning supplies and toilet paper?
If you share expenses, talk about how to manage them, so they don’t get out of control. Who’s responsible for keeping an eye on the grocery budget? What account will you use to spend that money?
Decide what will be on the table and what won’t, so your conversation doesn’t spiral out of control.
Figure Out Your Individual Financial Goals First
Once you and your partner have decided on the parameters for your money conversation (i.e., what you’re going to be talking about and not talking about), you should do some individual reflection before coming together.
Have numbers in mind before you talk. Do some research into your past spending and think about whether it’s reasonable or not. Figure out what you want to be saving for and when you’d need those savings in place.
You want to come to the conversation with numbers that make you comfortable, rather than being reactive to whatever your partner says.
Take a Break if You Need One
No matter how much you love your partner and how much preparation you do, conversations about money can be difficult and emotionally draining.
If you feel yourself getting exhausted or angry at your partner, you can always take a break. Get something to eat, take a quiet walk, or spend some time alone before resuming the talks. You want to remove emotion from the conversation as much as possible, or it won’t be productive.
This works best if you talk about the possibility up front. There’s nothing in the world wrong with saying “I’m feeling a bit on edge right now. Can we take a few minutes and then come back to this?”
Keep Your Finances Separate If That Makes More Sense
Some couples combine their finances and share all expenses. Some prefer to keep separate bank accounts where each person contributes to joint costs. And some share expenses, but budget in a personal “allowance” for each person for discretionary spending.
All of these are fine; there’s no wrong way to handle it, so long as you both are on the same page.
Seek Professional Help
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help to facilitate conversations about money. A trained therapist can help you and your partner approach your finances without judgment or frustration.
There’s no shame in calling in a third party. In fact, doing so can save your relationship.
Talking about money is hard. But it can also save your relationship. Prioritize having this awkward conversation, and you’ll be in a better place to support and love your partner.