The Talk. Every dating couple comes to this crossroads where they need to bring up a very intimate and sensitive subject. It’s uncomfortable to talk about and brings out vulnerability and insecurities in both parties. Avoiding eye contact and the awkward silence when any mere reference of the topic is mentioned.
You know what I’m talking about – your personal finances.
Wait…what did you think I was referring to??
Yes, when do you talk about your personal finances with the person you are dating? The person that you share your most inner thoughts and feelings – your dreams, your goals, your fears, your struggles. And yet, somehow talking about money can be more awkward than talking about sex, addressing how to handle problematic family and friends or pointing out shortcomings in the other person.
So why is talking about money such an awkward and off-putting endeavor when it comes to our dating partner? Because it reveals things about our nature and behavior that would otherwise remain hidden. Because we put so much self-worth into how much money we make and what our net worth is. Because revealing that you have $20,000 in credit card debt reveals a story about your personal life that is putting you at risk that the other person may think twice about whether or not you may be a suitable long-term partner. In short, it’s risky to reveal something so personal that reflects on you.
So what is the right timing to talk about money and personal finance? Well, there’s no real right time – it really depends on the couple. However, if the relationship has started to become serious and you feel like there could be a long-term future with this person, then you have arrived at the time for “The Talk”.
Here are some things you can do to make the conversation about money less stressful:
- Observe your partner’s money habits in your day-to-day interactions. When you are going out to dinner or attending a sporting event, observe how they are handling their money. Do they use cash or credit? Are they concerned about what something may cost? Are things like convenience and quality important when deciding on purchases? Simple observation can reveal a lot about your partner’s money values. All of these behaviors are information you can pick up on without having the conversation…yet.
- Use opportunities in your day-to-day interactions to bring up money values. For example, use a spending situation from the point above to talk about a particular money value. This allows you to talk about money in a more casual and less awkward format. Keep the conversation light-hearted and use language that isn’t accusatory or demeaning. You are trying to learn more about the other person – don’t put them on trial!
- Be honest and open about your own money habits and values. Transparency breeds freedom and may allow your partner the space and comfort level needed to open up with you. You can be the brave party to start the conversation. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid – once the conversation is started, you can ease into various financial topics. Which leads to the last point…
- Ease into the level of conversation about finances. You don’t need to provide your entire financial life in detail – like the balance in your 401k – at the beginning of the relationship. Your initial conversations can be high-level at first – general philosophies about money. This initial conversation can pave the way for more detailed financial conversation as the relationship progresses at the comfort level of both you and your partner.
Differences in financial philosophy and financial stress are one of the main causes of divorces in the US. Wouldn’t it be better to find out ahead of time what those differences are and work through them rather than to be well into a marriage and discover you aren’t on the same page? Or worse, finding out that there are serious financial issues that have not been addressed – such as hidden debt – and now you have to figure out what to do? Hopefully this be avoided through open and honest communication about money and finances.
Discussing money issues and finances will help you get a better sense of how you communicate with each other on difficult and sensitive issues in the dating process. And if at some point you decide that marriage is in the cards, you will have had the conversations that many married couples wished they would have had before walking down the aisle. Save yourself a lot of grief and heartache – make it a point to have “The Talk” with your partner!