Financial stress and disagreements about money can cause conflict in marriage, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Utilizing some basic money strategies for couples, it’s possible to build a strong financial foundation for your life together, while enjoying your relationship along the way.

Experts on relationships and personal finance shared can provide some tips on how you and your partner in life can build a better relationship — with money and with each other.

1. Don’t Go It Alone: Work as a Team

Typically, marriage is a team effort, and this can be especially important when it comes to your finances. Just as you and your spouse need to support each other and communicate openly with each other about your needs and goals for your family, you also want to be on the same page with how you spend, save and manage your money.

“The most common causes of disagreements about money in relationships actually stem from failing to sit down and plan together,” says Joshua Schumm, financial coach at Kansas Financial Coaching. “We all have different financial backgrounds that we come from: Some people’s parents never talked about money in front of their children; some parents only spoke negatively about money. When we are in a committed relationship, we often fail to discuss and merge our financial strategies into a new one that works for both of us.”

2. Financial Opposites Attract: Savers and Spenders Working Together

One of the oldest sayings about relationships is that “opposites attract” — people tend to find romantic partners who complement their own strengths and who have different interests and abilities. This is mostly a good thing — it can help people navigate life with partners who can tackle various challenges and offer helpful perspectives that result in solutions they might not have found by themselves. The same “opposites” dynamic is often true when it comes to money — couples may find themselves in a situation where one partner is more financially-savvy and the other more carefree, or one is more frugal and the other quicker to spend.

Dr. Dori Gatter, licensed psychotherapist and business coach for entrepreneurial women, says that in order to keep from falling into an unhealthy pattern where one spouse does all the saving and one does all the spending, the best money strategies for couples include having both halves of the couple share responsibility for managing the finances and paying the bills.

“When only one person is in charge of the money, and the other does not see the bills coming in, they are more likely to live in some unreality about how much things cost and what the bills are for things,” Gatter says. “The partner in charge of the finances might then feel resentful and want to take control even more. It is best for the couple to sit down and create a budget together. They then get to see how the other thinks and hear each other’s beliefs about how to handle money. A good therapist can also help couples create a budget and hash out the sticking points.”

A survey of 500 millennial couples found that couples are 51% more likely to report being “extremely happy” in their relationship if they regularly track and discuss a household budget together.

3. More Money Is Not (Always) the Answer

Some people might think that if they could just earn more money, all their problems would be solved — they could afford a bigger house and better vacations and a more comfortable lifestyle. More money is not always the solution to people’s relationship problems, says Schumm. After all, most Americans are struggling with some degree of financial stress: 78 percent of full-time working Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, including 10 percent of people earning $100,000 or more per year, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey. But, financial stress doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship.

“You could say that three-quarters of the population has money management trouble,” Schumm says. “I have found that helping people to build an emergency fund and to develop good money management habits takes away the majority of the stress. Reducing or eliminating debts is also key to reducing stress.”

It might seem that making more money could relieve your relationship problems, but this is not always the case — sometimes more money just helps mask the problems in the relationship. “Money patterns already exist, but as we age and encounter new stresses, we can develop new vices which can exaggerate or create new problems,” says Schumm. “We also develop new friend circles, which can add to the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ stress and money outflow. I had a client who worked massive amounts of overtime to earn more to let his wife shop whenever she was stressed. All this did was to mask the marital stress and he eventually ended up divorced anyway. He dealt with a symptom instead of dealing with the root problems.”

Gatter agrees that even high-income couples can be at risk for divorce if their fundamental relationship issues — and their starkly differing values about money — are not addressed.

“Couples can be at risk for divorce if their beliefs are too far apart on how to manage money and the one who is the saver feels forever frightened of not having enough, to the point where they might leave the relationship in order to get to a feeling of safety,” says Gatter. “It does not matter about the amount of income you have for this to occur. It can happen to high-income or low-income relationships.”

4. Schedule Hot Dates…to Talk About Your Budget

Try not to talk about money with your partner only when you’re under financial stress or experience a sudden financial setback; instead, it’s better to talk about money at appointed, scheduled times — what Sam Schultz, cofounder of Honeyfi, a free app to help couples manage money, calls “money dates.”

“Too many couples only talk about sensitive topics like finances after something goes wrong, like when you have a big, unexpected expense,” Schultz says. “That only makes the discussion more stressful and emotionally charged, which typically leads to unproductive arguments. To get the conversation going, try scheduling money dates each month, where you set aside 15-30 minutes to sync up with your partner about how things are going with your finances. Just getting something on the calendar can go a long way to opening a dialogue with your partner about money, since it creates a safe space to discuss an uncomfortable topic.”

Honeyfi’s 2018 Money and Your Relationship Survey polled 500 millennial couples and found that couples are 51 percent more likely to report being “extremely happy” in their relationship if they regularly track and discuss a household budget together.

To keep money from being a source of stress in your relationship, use these experts’ advice for basic money strategies for couples: Pay attention to your spending patterns, your ingrained attitudes and learned behaviors around money, and how they affect your relationship dynamic. Get on the same page with your spouse — work as a team. Create a budget that you both agree on and make a plan to pay off debt and build up your emergency savings fund. Most of all, just as you regularly plan “date nights” to have some special time together as a couple, set up regular monthly “money dates” to make sure your financial plan stays on track.

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