When we think of money and relationships, there is often a negative connotation. Maybe it’s because what to do on date night is a way sexier topic than finance or maybe because one of the leading reasons marriages end in divorce is due to disagreements over money. But it doesn’t have to be a sensitive or controversial subject; if you lay the groundwork and have honest conversations, setting financial goals can be something that brings you and your partner closer together instead of something that pushes you apart.
You might not feel comfortable bringing up the full money conversation in the early stages of your relationship, but observing your partner’s money habits can be incredibly telling. What are your significant other’s spending habits? Do they impulsively make big purchases or usually go for the thrifty option? What do they like to splurge on, and what do they like to save on? On top of learning about how they treat money, this is also a good opportunity to observe and learn more about their personality and what they value. Trying to understand your partner’s attitude toward money can eventually help you ease into a conversation that feels natural and can highlight where you are similar and where you are different.
2. Establish an open environment
The money topic is sensitive, so the environment that you set before and during any conversation with your partner around finance is really important. Start by mentioning the topic and suggesting that you want to sit down to talk about it together so you can be on the same page with your life goals. Think about making it more enjoyable: Pour a couple glasses of wine, make a lunch date out of it, or talk about it casually in the car or while you’re making dinner (it doesn’t have to be so serious!). During the conversation, focus on using effective communication skills, especially if something is surprising or upsetting to you. For example, if you learn your partner is swimming in credit card debt, don’t make them feel bad. Instead, try to understand the full story of how they got there and what they’re doing to improve the situation.
3. Know what you want to discuss
Depending on where you are in your relationship, you probably have a different list of concerns, questions, and goals. If you’re moving in together or getting married, you’ll probably want to focus on how you’re going to handle money as a couple, whether or not you’ll combine finances, and how to reach financial goals together. If you’re having the money conversation in a newer relationship, you’ll want to cover how you each value and think of money. For example, if you’re someone who wants to save up for travel but your partner likes to spend on weekly luxuries, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker (most couples won’t have the exact same money habits), but it is important to know what each of you value so you can make plans that work for both of your goals.
4. Be honest with your partner (and yourself)
Honesty is crucial, but it can be difficult to be honest with your partner if you haven’t accepted your own financial reality yet. Part of having the money conversation is being honest with yourself first. If you have something in your financial history that you’re not proud of, it’s time to come to terms with it and make a plan to move forward. If you’ve avoided paying down your debt, take some time to look at it and come up with a plan for how you’re going to pay it down before you talk with your partner. Coming to the conversation with an honest account of your situation as well as your plan to move forward will help ease the surprise of anything negative you need to share.