It will come as no surprise to anyone in a long-term relationship that money consistently ranks among the top reasons couples fight — in fact, it outpaces infidelity as a relationship deal breaker. Whether it’s because of one person’s spending habits or the inability to pay down a lingering debt, it’s the kind of topic that if left unresolved, could end a relationship with bitterness and resentment.
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A recent survey conducted by The Cashlorette found that more than 50 per cent of Americans in a committed relationship argue about money. The arguments most often surround one person’s spending habits (whether it’s overspending or underspending), dishonesty about spending or saving, and the unequal division of bills.
“Money troubles can change the entire dynamic of a relationship by causing a lot of stress and anxiety,” says Laura Bilotta, a dating and relationship expert, and founder of Single in the City. “These are the types of issues that cause unhappiness and resentment, and if they persist things can go downhill fast.”
The good news is, it doesn’t have to spell disaster. With the right amount of common sense and mutual consideration, issues surrounding money can be worked through. Here are some tips on how to negotiate financial troubles in a relationship.
Talk about it
A recent TransUnion survey found that Canadians who earn more than $40,000 per year are significantly less likely to know their partner’s credit history.
“You don’t want to inherit someone’s money issues unknowingly,” Bilotta says. “You might think you can accept it when it comes to light, but as time goes on and that debt doesn’t get paid down, it will cause problems. Especially if you want to buy property.”
Money is not a first date conversation topic, obviously, but as soon as you sense things heading in a serious direction (if you’re talking cohabitation or marriage) you need to start talking about it openly.
Set rules and limits
No one likes to be treated like a child whose every move needs to be monitored, but by sitting down together and agreeing on terms of spending, and limits on how much can be spent each month, you’ll go a long way in both avoiding arguments and getting your finances in order.
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“Everyone wants a little bit of money to play with at the end of the month, whether that’s $100 or $200 or even less, but make a rule that beyond that figure, you have to have an open discussion about where the money is going,” Bilotta says. “No one should be able to make a big purchase without letting the other person know first.”
Don’t use it as fodder for a fight
A heated argument can cloud the judgment of even the most levelheaded person, but if you’re arguing about something unrelated to money, don’t bring it up or throw it in your partner’s face.
“It’s very important to only discuss money matters when you’re calm, so you can put a positive perspective on it,” Bilotta offers.
Sit down with your partner, grab a glass of wine, and a pen and paper, and sketch out how you want your financial future to look. Set goals for yourselves, whether that’s saving up for a trip or paying down your debt, so you have something positive to get excited about.
Because financial troubles are so closely linked with issues of low self-esteem and self worth, she says, bringing them up in an argument will only make matters worse and chip away at your relationship.
Consider separating some of your finances
Financial independence goes a long way to maintaining equality in a relationship. In fact, it’s something millennial women seek to establish as early as the first date. According to The Cashlorette’s survey, 37 per cent of females said they preferred to split the cheque on the first date versus nine per cent of males, although overall, millennials were more inclined to share the costs over other age groups.
“Even as things get more serious, like if you move in together or get married, keeping your own chequing or savings account is always a good idea,” the site states. “Consider it your ‘freedom fund.’ In case things go south, you have those funds to fall back on.”
However, Bilotta believes married couples should always share finances, while common-law couples can stay separate.
“When you’re married, you should be sharing everything equally. You should know what’s going in and out of all accounts at all times. There should be no secrets and both parties should have equal control of the money.”
A happy medium could include each member of the couple having a separate chequing or savings account for themselves, and opening a joint account for joint expenses, like rent or mortgage payments, groceries and anything relating to offspring.
Ultimately, though, Bilotta says you need to learn to keep yourself in check and communicate with your partner.
“Listen to each other’s needs and wants, and be respectful. It’s about teamwork.”