How to Talk about Money with a Partner
From the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we are operating in a world run by money. However, many people struggle to talk about finances with the loved one next to them in bed. When it comes to both dating and marriage, freely discussing financial issues can be seen as knuckle-bitingly difficult, and experts agree money matters can make or break a relationship.
“Money and communication about money is one of the major issues that leads people to divorce,” notes Morgan Mouchette, a matrimonial and family law partner at the law firm Blank Rome who believes that money, especially in relationships, is consequential.
Whether couples are engaged, married, or something else, talking about money is paramount in committed relationships because these choices may affect each other — both now and in the future. “Very, very often,” Mouchette says, “even though couples may have been living together, they do not have those honest conversations about how they expect to coexist and work as a team financially in their relationship.”
If pursuing marriage, one person in a relationship may have no idea how the other person’s financial background may impact them. Mouchette says that despite the romantic notions of marriage, it’s ultimately a financial partnership sanctioned by the government. “People, for the success of their marriage, need to discuss with each other before they get married how they want that partnership to look,” she notes. “Part of that will inevitably be about what we have, who has what, and how we’re spending our money, but a lot of people don’t have those conversations, and it leads to a lot of problems.”
Shared values and goals can include planning to retire at a certain age with a certain amount of money, financially supporting your children, paying down debt, and buying a home. “My major suggestion here,” Mouchette says, “would be to really understand what your partner’s vision of the future looks like with you as a financial partner.”
After becoming clear on your financial vision and virtues, get on the same page about when you want your dreams to become a reality. “I think the economy today shows that you really need to be nimble,” Mouchette says. For example, she cites how drafting a timeline together can be crucial: “If you waffled about buying a house over the last two years, you may no longer have the opportunity to buy a house because the interest rates are so high, and it may not be feasible for you.”
Break down your individual and joint ambitions into what you want to achieve in the near future and down the road. “Understanding your partner’s short- and long-term financial goals ultimately dictates what they may be willing to do,” Mouchette says, “and the lifestyle they’re willing to sign onto for your household is based on those goals.”
If one or both partners have significant student loan or credit card debt, for instance, it’s important that the other person knows their psychology around paying off that debt. “Do they see their student loans as something that they’re going to pay off in 20 years?” Mouchette says. “Or is it something that they’re willing to make a lot of short-term sacrifices in order to pay that debt off sooner rather than later?” Each person in the relationship should have an idea of how their current or future finances will be utilized.
While it’s often seen as a taboo topic, prenuptial agreements prompt these necessary dialogues before arriving at the altar. With a prenup, it can be decided that money earned after marriage will be legally separate. “Not every couple needs a prenuptial agreement, but every couple needs to have a conversation about their financial partnership,” Mouchette says. “Couples who do have a prenuptial agreement are forced to have that conversation before you get married.”
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"How to Talk about Money with a Partner," by Mia Brabham was published in Shondaland on October 24, 2022.