Expert Advice on Navigating Tricky Money Situations in Relationships

·5 min read
PeopleImages / iStock.com
PeopleImages / iStock.com

Ah, the beautiful bliss of finding the love of your life, moving in together, (possibly) saying “I do,” and heading off into the sunset together, where you are done with the drama of dating. This is cloud nine now. Why kill the mood by getting wrapped up in pesky little conversations about silly realistic things like money?

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Yes, talking about money — an inherently stressful topic for most — with your precious soulmate isn’t the most desirable idea, but the importance of doing so cannot be overstated; after all, money issues are the leading cause of breakups. Ideally, you’ll want to have deep, vulnerable talks about finances before you start cohabiting or even consider walking down the aisle, but if not, there are almost always ways to tackle whatever money problem you’re up against.

Here’s a look at a number of common money problems that finance and mental health experts often see couples struggling with — along with their insight on how to get past them so that you can get back to that glorious sunset on cloud nine.

Combining Funds Too Early

“Couples who combine their accounts before knowing each other well enough risk their hard-earned money falling into the hands of someone with poor money management skills,” said Dr. Carissa Coulston, relationship expert at The Eternity Rose. “Building financial trust in one another is something which evolves overtime, and you don’t want to find out that your partner has a compulsive spending habit that consumes your life savings.”

Your best bet is to wait until you enter into a binding legal union before mingling monies.

“Couples who aren’t legally married usually have no protection,” Coulston said. “Therefore, it might be wise to wait until you’ve married to combine your finances.”

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Bringing Debt Into the Relationship

“A common money relationship issue that often tends to complicate the relationship is the current debt you have prior to the relationship and how that gets tackled and paid down,” said Lisamarie Monaco, co-owner of InsuranceForBurial.com.

The best way to tackle this problem is for each person to write down all personal outstanding debts and tally up what is owed and how they plan to pay it off.

“In addition, write out a list of everything you are responsible for money-wise such as groceries, auto bills, electric bills, phone bills, etc.,” Monaco said. “What this does is give you a reality check first, but also gives you both the opportunity to come together at this point and come up with a strategy. You should also update this every single month, this gives you both an idea of what is coming in, what goes out, what is necessary, and how close to your goals are for paying down any outstanding debt.”

Automatically Splitting Expenses 50/50

“One issue I see happen too often is couples automatically splitting expenses 50/50,” said Chloe Elise, a certified financial coach and the CEO/founder of Deeper Than Money. “Because when it comes to relationships and the workload each party has, it might not be as simple as you think. We have to look at money as one form of currency.”

Instead of diving into a relationship with the expectation that everything be split precisely, consider what works for each person’s respective income. If you make $90,000 and your partner makes $45,000, it’s not fair to expect them to split the rent on your pricey condo. How can they contribute to the household in other, nonmonetary ways? And what are you comfortable spending per month as the “breadwinner”? These are key questions to ask in order to get ahead of this problem.

You Only Have One Bank Account

“I think couples who have just one bank account — that’s a recipe for disaster,” said personal finance and tax expert Buffie Purselle. “You should have a joint bank account for household expenses, groceries, bills–all that kind of stuff. And each partner should be allowed to have their own personal checking and saving accounts. When you get your direct deposit from your paycheck, you can choose what percentage of it you want going to the joint household account, and the other percentage going to your personal account. The rest of it should be going into your savings. This approach allows you to still have some sort of independence as a member of a couple.”

One Person Is Overspending

“I have found that spending is the number one issue that causes relationship issues for couples,” said Doug Carey, owner and president of WealthTrace. “When one person is spending more money than the other thinks is appropriate, it can lead to serious arguments. This is especially true if it means that person is not saving as much money as the other person thinks should be saved. It can become especially contentious if one person believes that the overspending and lack of saving is causing them to postpone their retirement.”

To resolve this common issue, Carey recommends couples talk in-depth about how they view money, saving and their financial goals.

“It is also important to set up some type of money management system,” Carey said. “Couples should talk about which system works best for each of them. For example, should they put all of their money into a joint bank account? Come to some sort of agreement on how the money will be managed and where it will be placed and then stick with that plan.”

Raising Kids With One Parent Staying at Home 

“Having one working outside of the home partner and one partner who stays home and works inside of the home taking care of the kids, etc. is a common relationship money issue that can lead to complications,” said therapist Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C. “This can create a power differential in the relationship if it’s not addressed because if the spouse that’s making money is seen as more important, then as a family, that person’s wants and needs may be prioritized over everyone else’s wants and needs.”

To eliminate this problem, McBain recommends that couples keep in mind that there are many ways to value yourself and others, and that money is just one way. If you try this — or indeed any of the techniques previously cited and you’re still not making progress, it’s probably time for couple’s therapy.

“If you’re struggling around money issues in your relationship, therapy can be a great place to talk about these patterns and how they are showing up and to learn to create healthier patterns that better take care of your family as a whole,” McBain said.

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