Whether you’re newly wed or have been married for years, one of the most common sources of conflict in your relationship likely has to do with money.
You’re not alone, say experts. It doesn’t matter how much you and your special someone love each other. Most couples bring vastly different ideas about money to the table — and how well couples negotiate those differences can have a big impact on how healthy the relationship will be over the long term.
In our first article in this series, we looked at some of the most common mistakes couples make when navigating financial issues in their relationship. Here are three more financial habits that often get couples into trouble — and how to avoid them.
Bad love and money habit #4: Expecting happily ever — right away.
When couples get married, most have built up a strong romantic relationship through an extended courtship period. Many have spent years getting to know each other and have built a common ground of shared values, experiences and goals.
When it comes to building a financial relationship, however, you’re just getting started. And it is a very different process than building a romantic relationship.
“Couples tend to think that a financial plan is a financial relationship,” says Scott Palmer, co-author with this wife Bethany of “First Comes Love, Then Comes Money.” “But while financial plans are important, that’s not in itself what will change a financial relationship. Our financial relationship is made up of all the little mundane decisions we make every day. Those kind of everyday decisions are important.”
How to avoid this habit: The Palmers recommend that couples schedule a regular “money huddle” — a time in which you sit down with your partner once a month and discuss your goals and expectations. It’s a good idea to set an actual date in the calendar for this, so you are sure you will have some uninterrupted time to talk.
When you meet, focus on listening to one another and learning about your partner’s financial values. Realize that building your relationship around money takes time, and conflicts will arise. When hot-button issues come up, try to see where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree on everything, as long as there is some give and take. It’s also helpful to recognize that sometimes you just have to agree to disagree. When that is the case, look for a middle ground where you can both feel comfortable.
Bad love and money habit #5: Sharing too much – too fast.
There’s no way around it; the more of your finances you share, the more you have to agree on. And sharing all your credit cards and checking accounts may cause you to rub against each other more than necessary.
If your money styles clash, and you have trouble syncing your styles without one partner feeling seriously cramped, it’s often best to give each other more space. There’s plenty of leeway in how you can successfully handle your finances, so find a workaround that works for both of you.
How to avoid this habit: For newlyweds, in particular, it’s often a good idea to merge your finances slowly over a period of time. But even for couples who’ve been married for a while, it can be useful to keep some portion of your finances separate.
If you have separate incomes, decide on which expenses to share and create joint account(s) for those. If you don’t have separate incomes, you can still create a budget for joint spending categories. Make sure you leave at least some leeway for discretionary spending for each of you. The key is to give you both enough freedom to not feel constrained and still provide for your common needs.
Bad love and money habit #6: Sharing too little.
Sharing too much can create problems; but sharing too little will, too. To avoid conflict, many couples tend to tiptoe around issues that cause disagreement and therefore never completely resolve their differences. These couples typically fail to plan for the future or create joint long-term goals — causing them to miss out on an important relationship builder.
“The smaller things fall into place if you have bigger, joint goals,” notes Kim McGriggs, Community and Media Relations Manager at Money Management International. “So it’s so important that the couple is on the same page. If two partners are headed in separate directions, neither will get there.”
How to avoid this habit: McGriggs points out that everyone, whether they’re in a relationship or not, should take the time to set financial goals. Setting agreed-upon short-, mid- and long-term goals with your spouse can help you both make smart financial decisions. It may also give you a broader perspective on your finances that will help you resolve other issues. For example, if one partner is a spender, he or she may naturally curtail spending if the two of you are saving toward a joint goal, such as an overseas vacation or a down payment on a home.
Start by asking each other: Where do you want to be 2, 10 or 20 years from now? Then decide which shared goals you’d like to make happen and work together to figure out how to get there.
Finally, don’t neglect to take joint responsibility for your finances. You can improve your overall financial position by paying down the last of your credit card debt and establishing a savings cushion. This will in turn allow you to make smarter — and more desirable — financial choices down the road.