Money and Relationships: Balancing the Romantic and the Pragmatic
Love and money—they go together like oil and water. Love at its best is romantic and unconditional. Money, on the other hand, is finite and requires a healthy dose of pragmatism to manage successfully.
When you're in a long-term relationship with another person, there's no getting around the financial facts of your life together. As a couple, it's easy to get swept up in the possibilities that a mutual relationship offers.
But you must also find the balance between this ardor and the more practical side of your relationship—how to manage money together, yet maintain some financial freedom for yourself.
Couples can have a healthier mutual relationship over money and finances. But first each partner must develop a healthy relationship with money on their own. Because having your own relationship with money gives you insight to the pragmatic side of managing your finances. You come to understand how money flows in and out of your life, and learn the value of saving and making it last.
Once you see the pragmatic side of your relationship with money, then you can explore the romantic side with someone you care about.
Spending: A Thin Line Between Freedom and Responsibility
Daily spending is by far what couples fight about when they fight about money, according to a 2015 Money.com poll. Among heterosexual couples, an equal number of men and women admit to hiding purchases and spending money that their partner doesn't know about. And both men and women believe their other partner is more likely to make frivolous purchases.
Each partner in a relationship has the right to financial freedom. The amount doesn't matter as much as its existence—having your own money to spend as you see fit helps you maintain your individuality, especially given the ebbs and flows of compromise that are hallmarks of a healthy relationship.
But with freedom comes responsibility. Financial decisions, whether made individually or mutually, should be discussed openly and freely. Partners must agree on limits to individual spending, and feel comfortable having the conversation if the limits are exceeded. As famed Financial Author, David Ramsey say, "Agreeing with your spouse on a budget means agreeing on goals dreams and hopes for your life and your family."
Avoid the unhappy ending
If you're like many couples, the conflict between the romantic vision of your relationship and the reality of daily life may be a constant source of stress and disagreement. If the stress builds up enough, it can lead to an unhappy ending. A 2013 study found that arguments about money are the top predictor of divorce.
And why is money the primary source of relationship strife? Because among all other resources including time, space and affection, money is the most quantifiable. We can see how it flows in and out of our lives. We can add it up, just as easily as we can count it as it slips away. So it's easy to point to money when arguments erupt between two committed individuals.
Before the accusations fly, each partner should ask if the disagreement is truly a financial problem or a problem within their relationship. Chances are, it's the latter. Money is just a tool in our lives—when we disagree with a long-term partner, it's because our values or our emotions are at a crossroads. The best course is to step back and resolve our real differences first. Then, the financial differences will be easier to sort out to arrive at a mutual agreement.
Planning for a future together
Couples who have gone through several phases of life together—from marriage to parenthood to empty nesting—may look to retirement with high expectations. Many couples discover, often in the early years of retirement, that their individual expectations were quite different from one another.
A Fidelity survey found that one in three couples don't see eye-to-eye when it comes to picturing their lifestyle in retirement. Nearly half were in disagreement about how much money they would need to live their expected lifestyle in retirement. Perhaps most astonishing, this gap was greatest among couples who were closest to retirement.
To avoid these difficulties in your own relationship, make a point to discuss your expectations for retirement with your partner. These discussions often come up when setting retirement goals. But you can help yourselves by having these discussions before you sit down with a planner or advisor to map out your financial future. Some couples may need the benefit of time to work out their differences and come to a shared vision for retirement.
Don't be surprised to learn your vision for retirement is different from your partner's vision. Your goal is to find common ground for your future together. And if you're in a long-term relationship already, you likely have enough experience in finding common ground to help you set expectations that both individuals will be happy with.
With money being a common thread in many disagreements as well as a necessity to fulfill needs and goals, couples need open communication, shared responsibilities, and a whole lot of empathy to resolve their financial differences and continue on a path of long-term commitment. Just like most things in life, it takes practice and perfection shouldn't be expected. When both partners find that balance between the romantic and the pragmatic, they can continue to live enriching and compassionate lives together.