When you’re in love and planning to get married, talking about money can seem crass. But if you don’t, you may find out that getting married is easier than staying married. Disagreements over finances are one of the leading causes of divorce.
Open communication is the best defense. At the beginning of a romance most of us try to show our best side. That’s normal, because letting our prospective partner know early on about our prodigious production of gas might kill the relationship before it really gets started. But eventually everything comes out, and our partner finds out that we’re not perfect.
As a relationship progresses we have to start letting our lover see who we really are. If something is a deal breaker, better to find out before you’ve bought a house together. If it isn’t, you have time to come to an agreement before the stakes get really high.
It’s the same with money. You can hide your spendthrift (or miserly) ways early on, but not forever. If you find out after the wedding that you’re financially incompatible, it can lead to some real blowout arguments. Conversely, getting the right start can improve your chances for romantic bliss.
So at some point before the wedding – or even moving in together – you have to talk about money and how you feel about it. It isn’t an easy topic for most people, but if you can’t discuss difficult subjects with the person you plan to spend the rest of your life with, you’re either not ready or you’re with the wrong person.
The best way to start the conversation is actually to talk about other things. Just like in any financial planning situation, money is secondary; it supports the things that really matter. So as your relationship progresses, be sure you’re talking about what you really value in life. Is it family? Security? Adventure? Work? Each topic (and any others) can lead you in many directions.
This discovery process should be ongoing and open ended, because you won’t think of everything at once, and it would be exhausting. As you come across differences you’ll each need time to sort out your feelings. If you can have an honest reckoning with yourself about why you feel or act a certain way, you have a better chance of explaining it.
Ideally these conversations happen before things get really serious, because then the next step will be easier. But better late than never! Before merging households you have to open up financially. Being 100% honest isn’t good in all aspects of a relationship, but in finance it’s essential. You need to open the books and show each other exactly what’s going on. Income, debts, investments, obligations, and everything else need to be on the table. You also need to discuss expectations–such as earning, spending, saving, housing, retirement, and how you will manage money.
You’re never going to agree on everything, and that’s not the goal. What you’re doing is looking for the potential land mines and figuring out how to disarm them so they don’t blow up in your face later on. These issues can be tricky for reasons both practical and existential, so if you get stuck don’t be afraid to get impartial help–which probably eliminates your friends and mothers. If necessary, there are professionals who can help you with the issues.
Talking about money often isn’t easy, but if done right it can bring great rewards.