Arguments over money are the #1 cause of divorce, before cheating, empty nesting, you name it. There is nothing that can end a relationship faster than having financial skeletons in your closet (or stumbling upon them in your partner’s). So do me a favor: before moving in together, getting married, having kids—whatever the next step might be—have The Talk. Get it all out on the table now, so you can plan happily and transparently for the future—and avoid nasty fights that stem from “I didn’t know that’s what you wanted.” Still feeling intimidated? Put on your big girl undies and follow these basic guidelines:
When to bring it up: As soon as humanly possible! Better to get any uncomfortable or even embarrassing news out on the table before things get serious enough for it to become a deal-breaker. This is where you could make known any unusual health conditions, family irregularities, or even past relationships that may come up in the future. Those are biggies even without the money factor, but there usually is one. And, of course, any pesky credit card debt, student loans, or financial goals that are important to you.
How to bring it up: This is a delicate topic for men and women. So set yourselves up in a mutually comfortable, nonchaotic, and unrushed environment. The important thing to convey and establish here is sincerity. Your new partner should give you a realistic idea of his financial status so that it is never assumed he is in a position he is not. Ask the tough questions and keep him honest. You don’t want to start the relationship based on unrealistic expectations, and, hey, if you don’t love each other for you no matter how heavy your wallet is, it may not work out, anyway. Women: it is more appropriate for you to reveal your financial status by showing him than by telling him. For example, paying your own way when going on vacation or offering to take over some of the household expenses demonstrates that you are in a financially secure place. Likewise, suggesting dates that are low-budget or ways to save around the house will tip him off that you are more budget-conscious. This way, you can make your situation obvious without bruising his ego or threatening any dynamic perceptions he might have.
Set goals—together: Discuss what your goals and purposes are for the relationship. Whether it’s just for fun or for life, being on the same page with your goals and purposes aligned is key to the success and longevity of the relationship. Does he want to travel for a while? Do you want to buy a house? Set these big milestones together and adjust them as your commitment and work/life situations change. It will give you something to work toward, together.
Imagine your ideal life: Letting your mate know about your ideal life is helpful as a navigation point through the day-to-day living with one another. After all, your partner is the one beside you in the rat race, and it would be wonderful to know that you are able to contribute to each other’s world in a way that makes both of your lives easier. Are you an ardent saver who likes to splurge on a nice dinner once a month? Let him in on this and plan a date. Do you make your lunch for work but swear by your morning latte? Maybe it’s a tradition he can participate in, too. These little day-to-day indulgences will keep you both on track with your budgets—and you might make some traditions of your own along the way.
How often you have to talk about it: You should know how to push your other half ’s on/off buttons by now. Don’t turn him off to The Talk. Keep him turned on to talking regularly about issues that surround a shared goal like a down payment for a house, car, or vacation. Keep the heavier stuff to a once-in-a-while thing. Be gentle (and keep timing in mind) when tackling issues like your credit card debt or contributing to your Roth IRA. Don’t avoid the tough stuff altogether—just adjust your approach based on how sensitive the subject is.
Still scrambling for topics to cover in The Talk? Here are a few you should bring up at some point:
- Accounts: Will you have one together, or keep them separate?
- Family Spending: Will you both contribute financially, or will one of you stay home with the kids?
- Investment Style: Are you aggressive or conservative?
- Nesting: Do you want to buy or rent a home?
- Big-Ticket Purchases: How will you handle large expenses like a house or a car?
And if you’re STILL nervous about bringing up the “F” word (finances!) with your partner find an impartial third party, like a relationship counselor or financial planner, to sit down with the two of you and ask the tough questions. Having this mediator in the room can keep things from getting accusatory and also keep the conversation going even when it gets uncomfortable.