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7 good reasons to break up over money

Allie Johnson

April 9, 2015

Do you worry that you and your significant other aren't a good match when it comes to money? It's definitely an issue to weigh carefully.

“Money is one of the most important factors in a relationship,” says Vivian Padua, a life and financial coach based in California. After all, money is a top reason why couples fight, she points out.

Looking at how your boyfriend or girlfriend deals with finances can help you decide whether to take the relationship to the next level — or call it quits, says Janine Elias, a marriage and family therapist and author of “Kill Robin Hood: The Surprising Truth About What it Really Takes to Get Rich.”

With that in mind, here are seven reasons to consider breaking up over money:

1. Your values don't mesh. What if you spend your extra funds saving the whales, while your beau uses his disposable income to fill his closet with designer duds? It's not just how much you spend: How each of you chooses to spend your money shows what you value, Elias says. “A lot of people don't like it when I say that, but it's true,” she says. Differing values aren't always a reason to split, but it's important to look closely at what each of you cares about and wants out of life, she says. If you each want very different things out of life, especially if you're in your 30s or older, that can be a good reason to break up, Elias says.

2. She uses money to exert control. What if you're making an entry-level salary, but your significant other is pulling in six figures? That's fine, as long as the couple can figure out a way to handle costs that's fair and works well for both people. But an earnings imbalance can lead to a power imbalance, Padua says. “Maybe one person says, 'I make more, so I get to call the shots,'” she says. If your partner has a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude and refuses to work as a team, that's a major red flag, says Bonnie Eaker Weil, a marriage and family therapist and author of “Make Up, Don't Break Up.” If that's the case, you might want to have a serious talk and even reevaluate the relationship, Padua says.

3. He spends secretly. Did you see him sneaking upstairs with armloads of shopping bags? Maybe mysterious packages keep arriving in the mail. Or he suddenly has a shiny new iPhone. “There should be no secrets,” says Barbara Friedberg, a personal finance consultant with a degree in counseling. However, don't get upset right away: Some people make clandestine purchases due to shame or fear of being judged, Friedberg says.

“If you're with somebody who's got a major problem and isn't moving forward, save yourself and get out.”
–Barbara Friedberg, personal finance expert

Make it clear that you want to talk openly, calmly and nonjudgmentally about money. If you do that and your partner keeps shopping surreptitiously, it might be time to rethink the relationship, Eaker Weil says.

4. She won't tell you her score. Of course, you're not going to ask for her FICO score over dinner on your first date. But when a relationship gets serious or you consider moving in together, it's important to share information about your finances, including your credit reports and scores, Friedberg says. If you marry bad credit, it affects your financial life as a couple. “Don't marry someone if you don't know their credit score,” Eaker Weil says. You can check your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com and your credit scores for about $20 each at MyFICO.com. Also, more credit cards are offering free credit scores with your monthly statement.

5. She has an expensive addiction. Is he a gambling addict? Is she a shopaholic? Does he have a drug or alcohol problem? If your partner has an addiction and refuses to admit it or seek help, this could cause big trouble in your relationship and drain your finances, Eaker Weil says. Look not just at words, but also at actions, Friedberg says. “If you're with somebody who's got a major problem and isn't moving forward, save yourself and get out,” she says.

6. He's deep in debt. Did your honey just reveal that he racked up mountains of credit card debt or has a student loan balance bigger than the cost of a house? Some partners might be fine with that, while it could be a real problem for others, Friedberg says. So, look at your own comfort level with marrying debt, she says. “If your loved one has a lot of debt and that's unacceptable to you, that may be a deal breaker,” she says. And if your honey is currently living beyond his means – for example, he has a mid-level job but drives a luxury car and goes on expensive excursions, that's a bad sign, she says.

7. You fight over finances. It's normal to have disagreements about money. But frequent, intense fights could be a sign you should consider calling it quits. “It's perfectly OK to say, 'You're a great person and I love you, but we're going to fight over this for the rest of our lives,” Elias says. “At some point, the love will diminish over the fight.”

Of course, an issue that could be a financial deal breaker for one person might simply be a challenge for another. “When you're trying to decide, 'Is this the person for me or not?' you need to decide what you can and can't tolerate,” Friedberg says.