When you're in the first bloom of romance you don't want to be talking about something as unsexy as money. It's not exactly fun pillow talk.
Sure, you might feel comfortable talking about spliting the bill on a birthday or other significant day, or about how much money to spend on your partner and what the appropriate gesture is. But when it comes to finances and your relationship, for many of us, that's where it ends.
Which is a problem.
That's because I believe if you really want a healthy relationship you eventually need to have the talk. And I'm not talking about the number of sexual partners, whether you want to have kids or where you want to live. Instead, I'm talking about finances.
Yeah, I know, sexy right.
But here's why you want to. Too many couples avoid the financial side of their relationship because it feels awkward. So, they don't ask curious questions, they don't find out their partners' money values, they don't find out if they're financially compatible, whether their partner has a lot of debt or a bunch of outstanding tax returns and it means money starts to become an issue. Simply because both parties are unwilling to deal with it.
Research shows us time and time again that finances are the most common source of fighting among couples — provoking three arguments per month on average.
That's because the fact your partner insists on always buying rounds at the pub, brings gifts and always buys dinner might seem incredibly generous early on. Yet when you've moved in together or are saving for something significant it becomes a source of tension because you feel they're squandering funds. Or the fact that you have three credit cards and are thousands of dollars in debt might feel like a shameful thing and you don't want it to affect your partners' opinion of you so you're motivated to avoid conversations about money. Which becomes an issue the longer it goes on to the point where your partner feels blindsided when they start talking about buying a house and suddenly realises your debt and bad credit rating will mean you can't contribute.
Of course, like many couples, you might be very happy to discuss fun financial subjects like planning a holiday or moving in together. But that's like eating chocolate bars in lieu of real food every day. It's simply not nourishing and over time can make you start to feel a bit sick.
So how do you start to make money a healthy part of your developing relationship? How do you avoid the ick factor and include finances as one of the many subjects you're willing and able to talk about as a couple?
You just start.
I think many topics are potentially awkward if we're not used to talking about them. By suggesting to your partner that you understand money is the number one thing couples fight about and you want to ensure it's not something that becomes an issue in your relationship then you are introducing the topic as a positive thing.
Start safely by talking about your money values, how you feel about money and even take the brave step of offering a little financial transparency of your own such as what you have and what you owe, what's easy for you when it comes to money and what's hard. Or perhaps you might talk about how money was modelled to you growing up and what you struggle with when it comes to finances and start a conversation about how that has affected your relationship with money as an adult.
Will it be awkward? Probably. Will it be worth it? That depends if the relationship is worthwhile. If it's a one-night stand you're probably not going to bring it up but as a relationship develops money needs to become just another topic we're willing to talk about.
Melissa Browne is CEO of accounting firm A&TA and financial planning firm The Money Barre. Her latest book Unf*ck your Finances is available now.