When starting a new romantic relationship, most people may not think about addressing more difficult topics upfront in the early stages of dating. Or, they may think about it but believe it’s best not to go there too soon, to scare off a potential mate or to feel too uncomfortable. Dating can be awkward, bring up insecurities and a flood of emotions stemming from falling in love, a deepening infatuation or attraction for your partner. Amidst so many intense experiences, there may not be a conscious realization that if you want to have a loving, lasting partnership with this person, there are many discussions necessary to have in order to create a functional and healthy relationship together.
One of these often avoided topics is finances. As a financial therapist and couples therapist, I believe that it is important to talk about money even in early stages for purposes ranging from survival to long term planning and emotional connection. Bringing it up early can have a positive impact on the wellness and longevity of your financial future together.
While it may feel risky because many of us have been told not to talk about money either directly or indirectly, finances are absolutely relevant if you’re thinking about dating longer term or partnering for life. How many times has this message been reinforced in your relationships or in other examples like media, that talking about money is rude, inappropriate or could cause jealousy that leads to rupture or even being robbed? So many messages about how to talk about money have undermined the health of many couples’ financial intimacy and being able to effectively navigate financial planning, management and decision making.
Perhaps many of us are aware on some level that judgment and criticism can lead to shame, guilt and anxiety which are often the strongest emotions that lead to avoidance. When it comes to this relationship to talking about money; fear of upsetting someone, afraid of comparison or being seen as less than, and taking a real risk to bear the truth in an uncertain situation are all understandable reasons to avoid the topic. Some avoid it so much that they create other issues like – playing into gender roles or others’ expectations even through it doesn’t serve either person; creating resentment about unspoken needs or expectations eg who pays for dinner, trips away or transportation. Money is integrated into so many of our social systems and infrastructure, there’s no way around confronting this as a salient aspect of life one way or another.
Beyond working with the challenges of broaching any taboo subject, creating intimacy is a particular kind of relating. When it comes to financial intimacy, we can have all kinds of preconceived notions about what it could look like- is it sharing your wild fantasies and deep emotions? Is it connecting to your sexual connection or how to spend money to bring romance into your relationship? It could be these things, and much more.
Financial intimacy is ultimately using self awareness and insight in order to share and receive new information about each other. Self awareness and insight are key here! We cannot know each other until we are open to knowing ourselves. And by getting to know ourselves, we are able to invite our loved ones into our world.
So I offer this- if you want to feel both financially and emotionally secure with your partner, start exploring your hang-ups and any unhelpful beliefs you’ve internalized about money. Then, start having those difficult conversations about money regularly. Or, do both at the same time! Stay curious about your experience and your partner’s experience. Practice allowing yourself to feel and think how you do without judgment; then offer the same as you’re listening. These practices of talking about difficult things, opening up about finances, self-reflecting about your relationship to money, challenging unhelpful social messages about the topic, and increasing intimacy through talking about what you need and what you value will benefit you greatly in the years to come.
A recent study looked at how couples managed their money and overall satisfaction in the relationship. The results of the study were not surprising to me, nor likely to most couples’ therapists. It showed significant results that couples who pooled money were more likely to have greater satisfaction overall in their relationship and were less likely to break up. This is likely not because the pooling of money is a better strategy in all cases, but because when couples pool money, they’re more likely to talk more frequently about money in order to make sure they’re handling financial responsibilities together. This leads to more collaboration and a feeling of team work, in addition to the experience of getting to know one another as they make important decisions, execute those decisions and set goals together.
Money management even solo, does take some financial literacy, healthy habits and skills. And it’s not always easy or simple to work through difficult feelings about our finances. Many of us struggle to improve our relationship to money on many levels. If you’re curious to explore your relationship to money and want to change some patterns of behavior in financial spending, earning, saving or planning- you can always reach out to a financial therapist. Additionally, there are some great resources on the Financial Therapy Association website. And, if you want to do some work together with your partner, find a couples therapist with a specialization in financial therapy. There’s so much to learn and explore when it comes to the world of financial psychology- money is deeply personal and meaningful for each of us. Investing time, energy and doing deeper inquiry into this aspect of your life together can mean lasting relational wellness on both emotional and financial levels.