If you've just gotten engaged (it's Thanksgiving weekend, after all), the last thing you want to hear about is divorce. But the reality is that divorce is all around us, and a leading cause is fighting about money, be it having too much money, not enough money, overspending or financial infidelity, to name just a few.
The best way to avoid the money trap and stay happily married? You've got to talk about money with your partner. "People are more reluctant to talk about money than about sex in relationships, because there's so much shame and secrecy when it comes to money. It's the classic elephant in the room," says Dr. Linda Olson, a clinical psychologist, founder of Smart Money Educators, and a speaker at The Wedding Academy.
Dr. Olson's professional interest stemmed from personal experience. "I was in marital therapy with my ex-husband," she said. "A senior therapist never once asked us about financial conflict, and that was our biggest problem." Now that she has helped countless numbers of couples to establish a healthy relationship with money, I asked Dr. Olson for some practical tips:
1. When you're getting to know each other (or at any point in your relationship, if you failed to do this early on), discuss your financial history, in the same way you discuss your relationship history, your sexual history, or your health history. Some good questions include, "What are your earliest memories of money?" and "How did your parents handle money?" Sharing your financial history with one another will help you identify if money is going to be a source of conflict for you. "Couples must create a safe space to dialogue amount money," Dr. Olson said. "To ignore what we know is a huge predictor of relationship failure is not smart."
2. Be honest about your financial personality type, and understand your core fears when it comes to money. Are you a "money avoider," because you believe that money is bad, or that you don't deserve it? Or are you a "money worshipper," certain that the more money you have, the better off you will be? Are you someone who believes that your self-worth flows directly from your net worth? We've all developed certain myths when it comes to money, and it's essential to lay them out there for each other, Dr. Olson said. "Because if they don't talk about their fears, they have no chance of success," she added.
3. Develop a financial plan, and stay committed to it. Talking is an essential first step, but the key to success is using what you learned about each other to develop a joint financial vision. To accomplish this, each partner needs to learn how to overcome his or her fears about money. "The goal is to become more balanced when it comes to your financial personality type," Dr. Olson said. Developing a financial vision is not always easy, and often requires the help of a trained professional, but it's one of the best investments you can make in your relationship.