Money is the leading cause of stress in relationships and a primary cause of divorce. I’m living this truth as I am currently separate from my long-term partner.
I’ll spare you the details of my breakup, but when selecting our romantic partners, we base our decisions on numerous criteria, but financial compatibility is rarely one of them. Physical attraction, shared interests, similar politics, and spiritual values are typically at the top of the list of things we look for, while we overlook our relationship with money.
The truth is that money is a medium for storing work energy that can be used later as a tool for action. If you and your partner don’t have the same values around money, you will be in constant conflict every time you try to act in the world, and every financial transaction will be a potential source of tension and conflict.
I wish I had sat down with my then-potential mate and had a more robust conversation at the beginning of our relationship to ensure we were on the same page regarding our long-term goals and objectives. Doing so might have saved us a great deal of unnecessary pain had we been more honest with each other.
The same thing goes for business relationships. Before you enter a serious commitment with a financial partner, you need to make sure you share the same values and beliefs around money. If not, you are heading into tricky territory.
First, ask yourself these questions:
1. What would you do if you inherited $10 million?
2. How do you feel about debt? Do you have any debt? What is your plan to pay it off?
3. How important is saving money for you? How do you protect your savings? In a bank account, retirement account, or perhaps with an advisor?
4. What are your long-term life goals? When do you want to retire? How much money do you think you’ll need to retire?
5. Do you ever check your credit score? Do you feel good about it?
6. How do you plan for financial emergencies?
7. Where are your financial weaknesses? Where might you need outside help? Are you good at budgeting or are you terrible at it? What’s the first thing you do with your money after you get a paycheck?
8. And, most importantly: What is your form of selfless service? How do you give back?
Next, ask your potential partner the same questions. How do your answers align?
While these are important issues to discuss before marriage, I suggest bringing them up early. Talking about money, even with an intimate partner, can be tricky. The truth is that learning to talk about money with your partner is a skill you need to master as a team, and it takes time, effort, and commitment.
It won’t happen overnight. So don’t try to bring it up the night before the wedding and hope for the best. If you can’t have these hard conversations, then there are communication or trust issues, and you should think twice before making a lifetime commitment.
You can keep money conversations causal at first and let the questions become more serious as your relationship progresses.
And here is another essential habit of a successful relationship that I still need to master —talking about finances often. The more you talk about it lovingly, the better you’ll get at it, and the better prepared you will be when (not if) an emergency, tragedy, colossal mistake, or some other unforeseen financial circumstance arises.
Set up a weekly money meeting and put it on your calendar. If you like, it can even be a festive event. Bake some cookies or bring snacks! Have fun with it. After all, it is an opportunity to make your hopes and dreams a reality.
As the Dalai Lama wisely said, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” I hope that next time, I’m better at having these hard money conversations with my future partner and don’t create more unnecessary suffering for myself and others.
Doug Lynam is a partner at LongView Asset Management in Santa Fe and a former Benedictine monk. He is the author of From Monk to Money Manager: A Former Monk’s Financial Guide to Becoming A Little Bit Wealthy — And Why That’s Okay. Contact him at email@example.com
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