Love and money: 5 ways to strengthen your relationship
Couples who communicate about money could be more likely to go the distance.
In this article:
- Financial stress has continued to affect relationships, with a nearly 20% increase in couples reporting that they fought over money in 2023 vs. 2022.
- Better communication can help you reveal underlying issues and resolve disagreements.
- Talk to your financial planner if you need help finding common ground or coming up with solutions.
Valentine’s Day has a reputation as the most romantic day of the year – a celebration of the love and support you share with your spouse or partner. And that’s probably not all you share; you might share children, a home, long-term goals and, of course, your finances. Any of those can be a source of joy – and sometimes contention.
Money issues are particularly notorious as one of the top issues couples disagree on. And in times of economic stress, like we’ve experienced in the last few years, it can get worse. In fact, nearly 20% more respondents to our latest research survey, Everyday Wealth in America, reported fighting about money in 2023 vs. 2022.
The good news is that the survey also revealed clear differences between the behaviors of married couples and those who had divorced. Unsurprisingly, as in almost all aspects of a relationship, communication is key.
This Valentine’s Day, perhaps the best gift you can give your spouse or partner is a commitment to better communicating about money. Here are five ways to get started:
Have a money talk that goes beyond dollars and cents
Hopefully, you’ve had many, many money conversations at this point. They can range from tactical (“How much did we budget for groceries this month?”) to big picture (“Should we take out a home equity loan to redo the kitchen?”).
But what many people often fail to confront – even on their own – is their core money beliefs. You draw on these beliefs every time you make a decision about money, but you might never have thought about them, let alone discussed them with your partner.
Set aside some time to talk about your reaction to statements like the ones below. And share the “why” behind your reactions – are you being guided by how your parents handled money? A past relationship or experience? Your personal morals and values?
True or false? Money beliefs to discuss with your partner
- Having more money is always better than having less money
- Money can make you greedy or selfish
- I don’t deserve my money
- My money is a reflection of my value
- Saving money is always better than spending it
- Money is meant to be shared
- Protecting your money is better than risking it
In our survey, divorcees were much more likely to say they had fought over money and almost two-thirds agreed that it had contributed to the divorce. But understanding your partner’s core money beliefs can bring you closer together and help you see their point of view. And that can reduce friction and stop disagreements from turning into arguments.
Envision your retirement together
Even couples who have the money talk before marriage and find they’re in agreement about debt, saving vs. spending and how their finances will be shared often don’t address one big topic – their goals for retirement.
This was much more common among divorcees in our survey – nearly a third said they’d never had a conversation about it. Among married couples, more than 60% said they were always or usually aligned on their vision for retirement, but it varied widely by age, with younger couples feeling much less confident and older ones much more so.
Retirement may be decades away, but it’s never too early to start talking about what you want it to look like. How much will you travel? Will you downsize or move away? Will you keep working in some capacity?
Talking about your retirement vision won’t just help you avoid future surprises, it can also get you excited about the future and inspire you to do even more to reach your goals.
Don’t hide things
Not all couples totally combine their finances when getting married. In fact, the majority of respondents said that at least some of their finances remained separate, and two-thirds agreed it can be healthy to manage money that way.
But “separate” doesn’t mean “hidden.”
When it comes to relationship killers, the top three all revolved around dishonesty:
- Not being honest about spending
- Making big purchases without telling the other person
- Not sharing important financial information
There are many reasons someone might hide things or lie about money in a relationship. Perhaps you think your spouse’s view on spending is unreasonable. Maybe you need to have secret money to feel safe because of a previous traumatic experience. Or perhaps you’re simply used to making independent decisions and don’t want to consult with someone else.
In a relationship, honesty is paramount – when it comes to money or anything else.
Unsurprisingly, divorced respondents were more likely to say they hadn’t shared everything about their spending than those who were still married. Whatever the potential reason for it, it’s never a good idea to hide financial information.
Bring in a neutral third party
If you’ve had the same conversations over and over again about specific financial issues and they’re not getting resolved, it’s time to try something new.
Many people don’t think to call their financial planners to resolve a financial argument, but it could be just what you need. If you don’t see eye to eye on whether there’s a problem, or you agree there’s an issue but don’t agree on the solution, financial planners can help you understand the reality of your situation. They can also come up with planning solutions you haven’t considered that could satisfy you both.
For example, Sara thought she and her husband Adam should pay for their children’s undergraduate education, even if they had to take out loans. Adam felt that whether or not they could swing it financially, their kids would feel more responsibility and ownership if they had to cover part of their schooling costs.
Their Edelman Financial Engines planner, Mark Sikich, helped them clearly see the reality – they needed to focus on retirement and deprioritize the goal of completely covering four years of college, even if that’s not what felt like the right thing to do. With a clear understanding of the situation, Sara and Adam could put aside their emotions and come to an agreement on the path forward.
Act as a team
You probably didn’t enter your marriage in the exact same financial situation as your spouse; you may have had a different level of savings, debt, income potential, expenses or other assets. (This can be especially true in second marriages, where one spouse is more established or has children or support obligations.) It’s important to remember that while your situations may be different, marriage means facing challenges together.
Debt was a major point of contention in our survey, with divorcees nearly twice as likely to blame their spouse for the majority of the debt in their relationship.
While it’s fine to keep your finances mostly separate if that’s what you agree on – have your own individual accounts and pay bills separately, for example – it’s important that your long-term plan covers both of you. If you’re committed to staying together “until death do us part,” it serves you best to have one plan that addresses how you’ll reach retirement and other goals, pay off your debt, and balance your ongoing income and expenses as a couple.
Nothing says ‘I love you’ like better communication
Whether you’ve been married a year or decades, money disagreements are likely to pop up now and then. But a strong marriage can overcome them, and communication is one of the best tools you have. If you could use a little help, your planner is here to get you onto the same page so you can face your challenges together.