4 steps to having the 'money talk' in a relationship

Whether dating, living together or married for years, it's the conversation no one wants to have: The money talk.

But not getting on the same page as your partner about money can destroy a relationship. A 2009 study from Utah State University found that couples that disagree about money a few times a week were 30 percent more likely to get divorced than those that fought just a few times a month.

"Money is a five-letter word, but actually for a lot of couples, it's a four-letter word. It's the one word that nobody wants to bring in to the conversation. It's emotionally loaded: It depends on how you grew up, what your history is with money … and also money is attached to how you feel about yourself," Sacramento couples therapist Kathleen Oravec, LMFT, said.

Because money can be such a loaded topic for couples, it's important to not spring it upon your partner without warning. Though it's not particularly romantic, Oravec recommends scheduling a time to sit down and discuss finances together.

"I really believe you just set a time, take one issue and go forward. Just stick to that one issue. If it's finances, then that's what you're going to do," Oravec said.

The most important thing is to develop a better understanding of your partner's attitudes toward money. Oravec suggests starting with a discussion of how your upbringing has shaped your beliefs about money.

"Because if you were raised in a situation where it was chaotic, and it was paycheck to paycheck and there wasn't enough money to pay the rent, you can see why money being saved means security to you. If you were raised the other way, and there was always money – you're going to bring that into the relationship," Oravec said.

The next step? Take a long, hard look at your current financial situation. While opening up about credit card debt, student loans or a less-than-stellar paycheck may be challenging, the experts say it's important to be honest if you're committed to building a future with your partner.

"Most couples are unrealistic when they just go into a relationship and feel that if I'm bringing all this debt with me, I'll just handle it myself. Because that can impact later financial goals," Oravec explained.

Then once you get a sense of your joint assets, income, debt burden and monthly expenses, it's time to start talking about the future. Oravec said this conversation should include both short-term and long-term goals, ranging from moving in together and buying a home to planning a wedding or starting a family.

Looking at the long-term financial picture will likely raise some difficult questions, such as what to do if one partner becomes sick, or how to care for aging parents. It's also necessary to have a realistic conversation about retirement and what that might look like. Oravec says if the conversation becomes too tense at any point, it can be wise to take a break.

"If one person is getting really agitated and the other is kind of shutting down, it does make sense to take a break -- a timeout -- as long as you agree to go back to the topic," Oravec said. "Don't let it sit and fester, and brush it under the rug, and never let it get addressed. So it's very important that you set a time and go back [to it]."


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