Money and sex regularly rank as the most common reasons couples fight.

Research from LearnVest’s Money Habits and Confessions Survey, conducted by Wakefield Research, concluded that financial issues are more than twice as likely as sex to cause tension in a relationship.

Finances can even end a romance, with nearly one in four Americans saying they broke up with a significant other over money issues. Most Americans say they would prefer to be single rather than cope with a financially irresponsible partner.


In our recent international survey of widows and money, a quarter of the participants had remarried or embarked on a new long-term relationship after the death of their spouse. Most of these women said financial issues were more complicated than in their younger days.

Many women in the study shared their advice about repartnering. They counseled women to go slowly and be honest about the negative as well as positive consequences of a new committed relationship.

A great number of them specifically suggested talking about money matters with their partner beforehand so as not to be blindsided later on.

What Women Recommend

The following suggestions from participants in our research make clear that women need to discuss money matters with their partners before making a lasting commitment:

  • “Talk, talk, and talk some more about life goals, financial plans, etc.”
  • “Before beginning to live together, have candid discussions about who pays for what, will you merge finances, etc. Hoping things will ‘work out’ on their own is not a sound basis to begin a life together.”
  • “I didn’t bring up the money stuff because I thought it would hurt our relationship before we married. Boy, was I wrong. We had big disagreements later. We split up!”
  • “Be careful with your finances. Do not allow anyone to take advantage of you because you are lonely or sad. Put yourself first, always.”
  • “Talk about all expectations and hide NOTHING. Make sure you’re both on the same page with financial issues. Don’t wait to be surprised later that your partner has huge credit card debt!”
  • “Understand each other’s financial stability and responsibility where money is concerned. Who pays for what?”
  • “In regard to marriage, be very aware of what benefits you can lose. Educate yourself.”
  • “Check out the other person’s major medical problems. You may not want to take care of another person again.”
  • “Best for me is keeping my finances separate even though we’re together. I think it’s important for all women to have money in their own name.”
  • “Always protect yourself and your family first, in case you need to be on your own again.”

Money Talks Can Benefit Your Relationship

Here are 10 vital questions to ask your partner if you’re thinking about a deeper commitment or marriage. They include suggestions made by women who successfully engaged in financial conversations with their new partner – or wished they had.

  • Can we talk about how we will make decisions about money – including spending money, saving money, debt level and budgeting?
  • Who pays for what? Will we have a joint credit and/or checking account for shared expenses?
  • Where will we live? Together or separately?
  • If we move in together, whose place will we choose? Or should we start fresh with a new home?
  • What are your plans for retirement? (If already retired, ask about plans for retirement lifestyle.)
  • Will we merge our investments or hold them separately?
  • How will we handle it if one of us earns substantially more or less money than the other? Or has fewer financial assets?
  • What about our health issues and potential costs down the road? How will we navigate those?
  • What financial responsibilities are we willing to take on for my children or aging parents and yours?
  • How do you feel about a prenuptial or cohabitation agreement before we move forward?

How to Start the Conversation

Talking about money with your partner can bring you closer together because you’ll communicate honestly as you determine your compatibility. Money conversations can even strengthen your relationship as a committed couple.

Start your first conversation after observing some of your partner’s behaviors around money. Perhaps begin with, “I’ve been thinking about my financial future. I would like the two of us to talk about that as we look toward our future together.”

Don’t plow into all 10 vital money questions immediately. Instead, pick a good time when you’re both relaxed and can share uninterrupted conversation. Maybe it’s Sunday evening after dinner, enjoying your favorite beverage in a quiet spot.

Try to communicate clearly, and keep that first money conversation brief – no more than 30 minutes. Then try another one the following week. What you’ll learn will give you a clearer idea about what’s negotiable and non-negotiable for you and your partner.

Is there room for collaboration and finding a new way that may be good for both of you in certain situations? Is there an alternative solution, a middle approach that can work?

There’s no one-size-fits-all best way for a couple to handle finances. If you need more help starting financial conversations, consider asking a professional to facilitate talks about money with you and your partner.

Is it easy or difficult to talk about money issues with your significant other? Have you posed questions like these before committing to a long-term relationship? What ways have you successfully approached money talks with your partner? Please join the conversation below.

Kathleen RehlKathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CeFT™ is passionate about inspiring her “widowed sisters” and their advisors through her speaking, writing and research. She wrote the award winning book, “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.” Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC and more.

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