Are You and Your Partner Financially Compatible?

Lauren Schwahn
By Lauren Schwahn 
Edited by Sheri Gordon

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Having the same favorite TV shows or sharing a mutual love of tennis with a romantic partner is great and all. But being on the same page when it comes to values and behaviors around money can also be a crucial part of maintaining a healthy, lasting relationship.

According to a 2017 Experian Credit and Divorce survey of 500 adults who had divorced in the past five years — the latest data available — 59% of divorcees said finances played a role in their divorce, and 53% said they were not financially compatible with their spouse.

Achieving financial compatibility takes communication and understanding. Here’s how to know whether you’re in a financially compatible relationship and what you can do to make it stronger.

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What does financial compatibility mean?

Being financially compatible doesn’t mean that you and your partner earn the same amount of money or that you have to share all of the same financial behaviors. It’s OK to have your own money styles, opinions and roles.

“Financial compatibility is really about do you both feel comfortable with the other person and how they are handling their money, dealing with their money and how you're doing so as a couple?” says Aja Evans, a licensed mental health counselor and financial therapist in New York City who works with Laurel Road. She adds that it also means understanding each other’s beliefs around money and how you use it, openly communicating and supporting your partner’s goals — whether they're individual goals or ones you have as a couple.

You should be willing to discuss what money was like during your respective upbringings, plus your current financial situation, habits and ambitions, experts say. That could include disclosing how much you make, if you haven’t already, as well as how much debt you have and your credit scores

Ask each other questions like, “Were there times when your parents didn't have enough money to pay the bills?” or “What are your thoughts about what retirement would look like for you?” says Sade Soares, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified financial therapist in Honolulu.

Talking about money matters can stir up a lot of feelings. Make room in the conversation for emotions, Evans and Soares say, not just facts and figures. The more transparent you are, the better you can determine your level of compatibility.

Watch for red flags

Minor differences don’t necessarily indicate financial incompatibility in a relationship. Your partner may track spending daily in a spreadsheet, while you prefer to use a budgeting app a few times a year. If that arrangement works for both of you, great. But if your partner wants you to get more involved and the two of you are unwilling to compromise, that’s when it can become problematic.

Set priorities and expectations together so you’ll know what parts of your financial life are negotiable and what aren’t.

“If you know that you are interested in buying a house or you want to plan a wedding together or plan a trip together and one part of the couple is really trying to make it happen and saving for that, or taking the financial steps to make that possible, and the other person isn't, that's kind of a signal that you're not aligned,” Evans says.

More serious issues may be relationship deal-breakers. Financial infidelity — hiding money, debt or large purchases from a partner — can harm a couple and their priorities, Evans says. 

Other signs of incompatibility include a lack of trust, avoiding discussing money, frequent arguments and controlling or abusive actions, such as your partner preventing you from accessing money. As you assess your compatibility with your partner, Evans says, consider whether you feel financially safe and stable with them.

Build a strong foundation

Having frequent, respectful conversations about money with your partner can help you forge a solid financial relationship. These conversations are especially important for couples who are married or live together and share finances. But even if you’re starting a relationship, early discussions about money goals and values can set you on the right path.

“The biggest part is just the constant open communication because financial statuses change all the time,” Soares says. “Folks move into a higher socioeconomic bracket. Sometimes folks lose their jobs. I think there's lots of transitions that occur around money, and that conversation needs to be open and ongoing.”

Decide how often it makes sense for you to discuss money together, perhaps monthly or yearly. If you’re struggling to get the conversation going or having difficulty reconciling differences, don’t be afraid to seek help.

“Sitting down with a financial therapist or sitting down with a financial advisor and mapping out your financial journey can be really helpful so folks can see where they can meet in the middle,” Soares says.

You can find a financial therapist through the Financial Therapy Association.

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