Opinion: Want a better relationship? Talking about money will help

Opinion: Want a better relationship? Talking about money will help

Couples who manage their finances together are more likely to have stable and happy relationships, studies have shown.

So why aren’t we all doing it?

Couples, for whatever reason, stay stuck in a financial rut. In 59% of couples, one spouse takes the lead. So with February being the month of love, share time together in a new way.

Also by CD Moriarty: Should I do an online will? Avoid these pitfalls

Financial intimacy is as critical as any other part of your relationship. Money is an important tool in all relationships. Having sufficient funds to meet most everyday needs does not preclude money as a serious source of conflict. Building a life together means fostering honesty and transparency on many levels, including money.

To strengthen your relationship and build a long-lasting financial partnership, start with small steps. Talking and sharing around money does not need to be long, involved or technical. The point is to start the conversation. Something as simple as adding both names on shared utility bills is a beginning.

A next step could be sharing the passwords or information on your financial accounts. With couples, just over half have access to each other’s passwords, and account numbers to bank accounts and investment accounts. If you already do, congratulations.

To create a better-quality relationship, build from there. Having an equal say in finances and sharing feelings about money is a process. How do you make that happen?

Three steps

From my almost three decades meeting with couples, here are three steps to building a better relationship with your finances and partner.

1. Emotional: Share a financial feeling.

What is your worst financial fear? What was your worst financial mistake? What aspects of handling money are you good at?

2. Practical: Share the financial facts.

Share where and how you pay the bills. Review each other’s retirement funds and investments. Reveal the debt you have. Review employee benefits together: life insurance, retirement, and medical-leave options. File the information in one place where each of you have easy access, either digitally or on paper.

3. Schedule: Make time in your lives for finances.

Discuss your money lives at least once a month. Put it on the calendar. Don’t have one? Research together and find a planner who can help you build your financial muscle.

Financial intimacy takes practice. The only way to make changes and build confidence as a couple is to share information and responsibility. Research shows individuals believe both partners need to be involved in decision making but making that happen is a hurdle. Everything from time limitations to preventing heated disagreements stop couples from sharing. These are not solid reasons to stop improving your relationship. Learn new skills and ask for help from professionals.

Planning ahead and taking small steps will get you to the goal of a meaningful financial life as a team. To help keep you moving to the next level of understanding while creating your new approach, learn more together about money, such as from this podcast.

Much has been written about conflict in relationships, but the conflict comes from a lack of communication and detailed interaction on finances. Knowing your joint financial reality is a critical piece of building a relationship. Communicating about money may initially bring up fears, embarrassment or different attitudes. Yet the outcome of becoming financially intimate pays off in improved communication, understanding — and just may have fringe benefits in intimacy at all levels.

Shared responsibility does not mean one person spends and the other says to spend less. Togetherness matters. There are even fringe benefits.

Here are some other unhealthy financial patterns I have witnessed:

Do not be afraid to discuss money with your partner. People talk about sex more than they do money. Yet, it is proven that when sex is discussed, a couple’s sex life improves. Your money life will improve if you talk about it. Potentially financial intimacy can lead to more overall intimacy.

Showing your special someone you really care is being willing to move beyond the entrenched role around managing the family finances. Get beyond the financial routine of taking care of everything. The true gift your partner may really need is a financial overview of your lives together. The added benefit of an improved relationship is a gift to yourself.

February is the month we associate with love, caring and cuddling. This Valentine’s Day, give the gift of building a life together.

CD Moriarty, CFP, is a columnist for MarketWatch and a personal-finance speaker, writer and coach. She blogs at MoneyPeace. Email your questions to MsMoneyPeaceQuestions@MoneyPeace.com.

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