Financial stress and disagreements are one of the leading causes for divorce, according to the American Psychological Association(1). This statement is such a well-known truth that one almost doesn’t need the confirmation of a trusted authority, as a source. Anyone who has been in a long term relationship can attest to the tensions that can result from the partners in a relationship having dramatically different financial goals. And this correlation isn’t specific to the US either – despite the source cited. Those of us who are native to cultures that encompass a wide range of practices and preferences - where marriages can be either for love, or arranged – can anecdotally vouch for the fact that no matter the background couples bring to the table, financial disagreements can play havoc with relationships.
Unfortunately, this has largely been a little spoken about issue, until quite recently. While couples are often bombarded with advice on how to resolve every other kind of problem that their relationship might be facing; it is only recently that we see the value of financial compatibility being addressed, openly.
Failure to get on the same financial page can undermine everything else about the relationship.
Love may be blind; but it can do the math
While it is no one’s contention that the emotional and other intangible aspects of a relationship are not critical to its success, there’s almost nothing more important to align in a relationship than financial goals and plans. In fact, failure to get on the same financial page can undermine everything else about the relationship.
So how does a couple go about being in sync, with the vision they have for their finances and plans for the future? As with everything else in a relationship, communication is the key to success. In fact, to be more specific, it needs to be structured communication. One idea that many couples have adopted with considerable success is financial dates. From marriage plans to pregnancies, it’s shocking how many life-changing announcements can come as a relative surprise to one or the other half of a relationship, but while some of these surprises can be some of your most cherished memories, the same cannot be said of financial ones.
A financial date helps couples gain an understanding of what financial plans and goals they agree on, and where they might have to adapt to the other party’s opinion.
Are you dating yet?
So what is a financial date? Well, think of it as an opportunity to get to know your partner financially; much like your first few dates showed you if they were polite to the waiter, loved dogs, and what they thought of your favourite genre of music. A financial date helps couples gain an understanding of what financial plans and goals they agree on, and where they might have to adapt to the other party’s opinion. It helps create clarity around future plans, current holdings, debt obligations, and lifestyle priorities.
Much like couples in long term relationships can reignite the romantic flame with a date night; regular financial dates can help you make and execute plans as a team, together. Whether you are in the first flush of a fresh romance, or approaching an important jubilee, financial dates are a good idea, in any committed relationship. Although a schedule is a great idea, it doesn’t have to be too rigid. Every relationship is different, so pick a frequency that works for both of you.
From ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happily ever after’; even fairy tales need structure
Traditional ideas of romance can undermine the need for deliberate structure and a ‘to-do-list’ approach to keeping finances on track, but it doesn’t take long before something you ignore – even inadvertently – becomes the basis for a major disagreement. Here’s a short list of tips that can help you stay on track for your ‘happily ever after’:
■ Cover all the mandatory ground: Financial planning is a complex topic. Or more accurately, it is a series of complex topics. Ensuring you are on the same page with insurance alone can include coming to a consensus on Life, Critical Illness, Medical, and other specific kinds of coverage – to say nothing of the extent of cover and the premiums you agree on. Extend this same attention to detail onto investments and savings, and you begin to see the need to be thorough.
■ Choosing a financial advisor: With the exception of when one or both partners are financial veterans themselves, having a source of professional financial advice is indispensable. For those just starting out on their financial journey, getting general online financial ‘advice’ can be somewhere to start – especially if budgets are tight at the time. But building a long-term relationship with your financial advisor can be nearly as crucial as the work you put in on your own relationship. The more your advisor knows about you and your plans, the more personalized they can be in their advice.
■ Keeping track of your progress: Executing your financial goals is best served by keeping careful, detailed, and accurate records. Spreadsheets, apps, or traditional bookkeeping; make sure you can easily assess your progress. The famous phrase that ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ applies doubly more to staying on top of your personal finances.
■ Celebrating small wins: Make sure your financial dates aren’t bogged down by long serious faces and complicated calculations alone. As with every team that experiences success, it is important to savour the victories along the way – no matter how big or small. Make sure you celebrate your success, you’ve probably earned it and these milestones will bring you together as a couple.
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