Opinion: Couples with strong relationships have money problems in common

Start the New Year with a stronger and more stable relationship with improved money habits with your partner.

Many couples feel stressed about their differences. When it comes to money, many people don’t like to talk at all.

But strong, successful relationships mean the ability to have productive conversations about money.

First, you need to understand what is important to share and discuss.

1. Discuss your financial history.

Susan Zimmerman of Mindful Asset Planning in Apple Valley, Minn., suggests starting by asking, “What was the financial atmosphere in your family growing up?”

From there, discuss the money messages you’ve received, she says. Your financial history is an essential part of you and your partner.

If you can’t take this first step, ask yourself: is this the right person for me or is the topic too difficult? Is it a problem that you can’t trust them, or are you uncomfortable discussing this topic with anyone?

Old habits die hard. If you grew up in a household where money was not discussed, you may need a professional to help you break this pattern. If you feel that sharing this part of your past will lead to a loss of independence, you have another problem. Either way, consider talking to a financial therapist.

Even long-term couples will benefit from this conversation. The goal, Zimmerman says, is, “By sharing stories, you can figure out your own financial philosophy as a couple.”

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2. Create a joint account.

Create a joint account only after you decide what the money will be spent on, how much one can spend without consulting the other, and who will contribute how much to the account.

Intention and conversations are important. This is not simply pouring your money into one account to solve all your money problems with your partner and ensure instant togetherness. Part of the process is connecting and solving problems as a team. Although some couples operate with one “main person” or are completely financially independent, that system does not prove to be the best for long-term happiness.

A study from Cornell University and the University of Colorado says that couples who share an account are happier. According to one of the researchers, “We expected that joint finances would increase one’s dependence on one’s partner.” Instead, they found that couples with joint financial accounts tended to exhibit a strong emotional bond and that their interactions were more positive, stable, and secure.

For this system to work, couples need to discuss priorities as well as needs and wants. This symbolic step means that they are planning a future together. Most of all, they trust each other. Money is only one piece of the puzzle. The conversations that lead to the formation of a joint account are what make a couple happier. Other researchers argue that couples who expect their relationship to last are more likely to pool resources.

Remember, you don’t have to combine all your money. You can choose to keep the money in individual accounts. A joint account represents teamwork and allows for ongoing financial conversations as you grow and change.

3. Be financially transparent.

If you disclose everything financially, you and your partner are guaranteed a better chance of a lasting relationship. By sharing the details of your financial life, from your salary to your assets, from your debts to your retirement account balance, you connect a lot of yourself with the most important person in your life.

If you don’t feel comfortable taking this step, start small. First, share your checking and savings account details. Then move on to salary and how you manage your money. Then to debts, and finally to your property.

Also, check and share your credit reports. These free reports – and be sure to check all three – contain more information about individual credit behavior than just your credit score.

Why would you want to share this type of information? First, you share a lot of personal things, money information is part of the partnership.

Second, not disclosing this information sincerely it can cause more harm than good. Over 40% of people admit to hiding financial information from their partners. Yet, according to one study, 64% of people say it would be considered a form of infidelity.

4. Dream together.

Money discussions don’t have to include bills, assets and debts. Talk about your dreams, both as a couple and as individuals. These conversations can be fun and frivolous, but they will help you get to know your partner in a new way. Bonus? This step will help you prioritize as a team, recognizing your separate and shared goals.

You could, for example, open a savings account for a second home on the lake that you both contribute to each month. While your partner is putting away a few bucks for that trip to Machu Picchu.

Finally, remember that all partnerships are full of conflicts and compromises in life. Constant communication about building a solid financial life together takes time. The investment could be the most important in 2023.

CD Moriarty is a Certified Financial Planner, MarketWatch columnist and personal finance speaker. She blogs at MoneyPeace.

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