Are you and your partner trapped by the money taboo?
Are you and your partner having trouble talking about money? It’s not just you — a lot of people are taught from a young age not to speak openly and honestly about money, even with their loved ones. But here’s the thing: not talking about it can cause serious problems in your relationship. In fact, research shows that arguing about money is the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity.1 And when the wife is the breadwinner, the divorce rate goes up by 50%2 — even though women are 40% less likely than men to report high financial well-being.3
The amount of money in a relationship isn’t the problem — it’s how a couple talks about money. And with the right tools, you can overcome the money taboo at every stage of your relationship. Here are some tips to get started.
Start talking about money while dating
Of course you want to put your best foot forward when you meet someone new and exciting, and talking about money might not be the best icebreaker. It’s fine to keep it light at first; the goal is to normalize talking about money early on so it’s easier to approach again.
Learning about each other’s attitudes and behaviors around money is important. Consider asking if your date is saving up for anything big, or if they use a budget in their daily lives. As you become more comfortable, you can talk about how your family handled money issues when you were growing up.
Keep communication open as you move into commitment
Once you begin a committed relationship, you and your partner enter a new level of financial intimacy. Every couple is different, so find what works best for you both. What matters is that you talk about it. Setting some ground rules can help, like establishing a time limit for the discussion so it doesn’t get too heated.
The debate of separate versus joint accounts
Some couples merge their financial accounts, while others are happy to keep them separate. According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who combine their bank accounts and pool their money are happier than couples who don’t. They feel it keeps the lines of communication open and indicates that they trust their partners.4 On the other hand, some prefer the independence of their own account and say it keeps the romance alive.5
Regardless of your choice, it’s important to work with a financial professional to make long-term plans together. During your money conversations, get into the habit of writing down the key takeaways to share with your financial professional.
Share your balance sheet (including debts)
One of the biggest hurdles to future financial plans is personal debt. Even though debt from medical expenses, credit cards, and student loans is common, people can still feel ashamed to talk about it.6 One study found that approximately one in ten people commit “financial infidelity” in their relationship, like hiding debt or having a secret bank account.7
It’s much healthier for your relationship if you and your partner disclose all your assets and liabilities. It may not sound as romantic as a candlelit dinner, but consider sharing your credit reports. If your partner is reluctant, share yours first as a sign of trust.
Keep talking — and save as a team
Financial conversations are important at every stage of life, and it takes practice to get comfortable talking about money. Even if you successfully paid off debt early in your relationship, there are still other financial goals to work towards, like college plans, down payments on a first home, and retirement.
Sometimes, couples maintain a “my money versus your money” mentality even after years of partnership.8 A financial professional can help you and your partner define the best retirement path for you both and has the expertise to help you to choose between single-life (no continuing pension will be paid to a spouse or beneficiary) or joining-life pension (a monthly pension guaranteed for your lifetime and your spouse or beneficiary’s lifetime) options.
Pass on good money habits
Parents teach their children a lot. But when it comes to money, parents sometimes neglect to talk about it, and the topic becomes shrouded in secrecy. Kids learn by observing their parents, and as they grow into adulthood, they inherit their family’s unspoken financial habits. If you and your partner have kids, eliminate the “no-talk rule” by encouraging open conversations about money within your family, so that everyone can understand your mutual financial goals. That way, you can avoid passing on the money taboo to a new generation.
For better or worse, the money talk requires patience and attention at every step. From your very first date, to passing on strong values to your children, to planning for retirement, it all starts with breaking the money taboo and having an honest conversation.