How to Talk to Your Significant Other About Money

Africa Studio /

If you and your significant other argue about money, you're not alone. Roughly 31 percent of couples argue about finances at least once a month, whether it's about big purchases, spending habits or investment decisions, according to a 2016 study from Ameriprise Financial.

And your relationship isn't the only thing that suffers if you let money problems get the best of you. A 2015 cooperative study by North Carolina State University and College of Charleston reveals that couples who let money issues become all-consuming also suffer long-term financial difficulties. Clearly, it's important to talk about money, but many couples don't know where to start the conversation.

Whether you're married, living together or just starting to get serious in your relationship, you and your significant other will likely be happier if you can learn how to talk about money. You might otherwise find your relationship is getting ruined by money.

couple drinking coffee in house
bbernard /

Practice Good Financial Hygiene

Just as you need to brush your teeth regularly to avoid cavities, it's important to discuss your financial outlook often to avoid major relationship problems. According to the 2016 TD Bank Love and Money Survey, couples who talked about money on at least a weekly basis reported being happier than those who discussed finances every few months.

"The best way to talk about money is a little bit every day," said Money Under 30 founding editor David Weliver. "Money is a part of life; it's not a big deal until it becomes a big deal. And it becomes a big deal when you don't talk about it and/or hide stuff."

The more you talk about money, the sooner you'll learn to do so effectively. Moreover, regular money talks keep resentment in check and prevents small problems from turning into big ones.

Related: 8 Ways Your Emotions Are Killing Your Investments

couple having coffee
WAYHOME studio /

Don’t Jump in With Both Feet

"We need to talk about money." If those words send your significant other running for the door, consider setting up a time to discuss financial matters.

To ensure a positive outcome, you should plan your conversation in advance, write down your desired outcome and resolve to respond positively to your partner's questions and objections.

Understanding the differences in your backgrounds can also help you and your partner respect each other's financial goals. Perhaps you grew up with Depression-era parents or grandparents who saved every penny. If your partner was raised in a home with plenty of cash for vacations and luxuries, there's a good chance the two of you will have very different attitudes about finances.

set financial goals
Yeexin Richelle /

Set Fiscal Goals

Many couples don't know where to start when it comes to setting financial goals as a unit. If you and your partner are at a loss, consider sitting down together to tackle the big stuff.

Start thinking and talking about your financial values and goals, debt issues and retirement plans. Additionally, decide which partner should pay routine bills, file taxes and perform other money-related tasks.

See: How to Lose a Guy (or Girl) Over Spending Habits

US dollar with pen and ring
Africa Studio /

Make Money Vows

Wedding vows often include taking your partner for richer or for poorer. However, you don't have to stand in front of a minister to make money vows that will increase trust and communication in your relationship. Being financially faithful to the agreements you've made about money helps ensure your partner will listen to your views and do the same.

One money vow that can help head off future arguments is for partners to consult each other about purchases over a certain dollar amount. Base your threshold off a percentage of your salary. Or, if either of you frequently binge shop, it can be as little as $100 or $200.

You and your partner can also vow to prioritize debt payment, setting aside money for hobbies and saving for retirement.

couple talking about finances
Iakov Filimonov /

Don’t Lie About Money

Just like sexual infidelity, financial infidelity can ruin a relationship.

"Financial infidelity hurts regardless of its scale," said Ted Beck, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education. "Hiding or lying about small amounts of money can damage a relationship just as effectively as a high-dollar deceit. In fact, in all cases of this deception, people affected say it impacted their relationship in some way — almost always negatively. It causes arguments, erosion of trust, separation or even divorce."

Still, 42 percent of people admit to committing financial deception in their relationships, according to a 2016 Harris poll. And more than a third hide purchases or bank accounts from partners. Additionally, 16 percent of people lie about other, more serious financial matters in relationships.

For best results, couples should strive to be upfront about monetary goals and spending. When both partners have equal knowledge, the level of trust in the relationship increases. You may want to consider even opening a joint bank account.

coworkers collaborating
Dean Drobot /

Stick to the Issues

It's easy for couples to get distracted in the middle of money discussions or even change the subject deliberately to avoid fights. If you want to keep your eye on the prize, consider using a whiteboard during your financial conversations.

Start by writing down the topics you need to talk about — keep it to a maximum of three points per discussion — and leave room below each issue for the solutions you and your partner brainstorm. Not only will doing this help you remember important points from your conversation, but it will also give you the satisfaction that comes with crossing off topics as they're resolved.

Additionally, couples should avoid criticizing and name-calling during money discussions. Agree to abide by certain guidelines during your discussions so you're less likely to escalate into arguing.

couple talking about problems
Rocketclips, Inc. /

Keep a Cool Head

It's only natural to get angry if you discover your partner is hiding credit card bills or running up excessive bar tabs. However, confronting your partner with enraged accusations rarely results in productive conversations.

Instead, wait to talk about the money dispute until you're feeling calmer. When you do sit down to talk, vow to listen while your partner speaks. You might even want to set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and strive to remain totally silent while your partner explains his viewpoint. The goal is to figure out why your significant other made the choices he did so you can take steps to correct the situation together.

couple getting professional help
g-stockstudio /

Get Professional Help

If you and your significant other have tried and failed to discuss money matters, it might be time to seek professional help.

You should head to couples counseling if your money problems include financial infidelity. Lying about money signals an underlying lack of trust. A counselor can also help if one partner is spending money on gambling, substance abuse or a shopping addiction.

If your problems involve sticking to your budget, planning for retirement or overwhelming debt, opt to see a financial counselor. Find an accredited counselor near you by going to the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education website. Some counselors even work for nonprofit agencies with sliding-scale fees based on income.

If you think you and your partner have issues with both budgeting and financial infidelity, you might want to see a financial therapist. Financial therapists focus on how emotions affect patients' financial habits and what aspects of their lives created their attitudes around money.

Find: The No. 1 Financial Deal Breaker for Couples in Every State

Related Video

About the Author

Jodi Thornton-O'Connell

Jodi O’Connell is a freelance wordsmith based in Sedona, Arizona, who writes about everything from vacation vagary and adventure sports to real estate and pets. She spent more than a decade in Arizona’s real estate industry advising first-time homebuyers and commercial investors before indulging her passion for the written word on a full-time basis. Her articles appear on websites as diverse as U.S. News and World Report, USA Today, Hipmunk, Roots Rated, and Travelocity.

Read More