Love is a many-splendored thing. Love lifts us up to where we belong. Love is the greatest gift of all. But as 80s big hair rock legends Def Leppard remind us, there are times when love bites, too. And probably the best (as in the worst) example of love’s ability to lacerate is when couples decide go beyond sharing a Netflix account and Costco membership: they take the money plunge and pool their finances.
Now, before the romantics out there begin sharpening their spears (hell hath no fury like a romantic scorned!), nobody is suggesting that couples should live completely financial separate lives, whether they live together without wedding rings, or they first officially tie the knot at city hall, a place of worship, or perhaps in front of an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas.
Rather, the basic idea here is that couples need to worry about more about who rules the remote, whether the fridge is stocked with Coke or Pepsi, or whether the default position of the toilet seat is up or down. They also need to actively avoid making one, some, or sometimes all three of these often fatal financial mistakes that could kill the relationship, and hurl or one both partners into bankruptcy. (Hopefully this isn’t on the horizon, but if so, then check out the excellent blog at charleshuberlaw.com for advice and tips.)
- Not talking about money — period.
The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. But the first rule of financial intermingling is that you absolutely need to talk about money: where it’s coming from, how it’s being used, and whether enough of it is being saved. Couples that avoid talking about money because they don’t want to create friction only make the problem worse, because there will come a time — probably sooner rather than later — when they have no choice but to deal with money matters. At best, someone ends up sleeping on the couch for a while. At worst, it’s a break-up or divorce.
- Keeping big money secrets.
It’s important to distinguish small money secrets (which are usually OK) from big money secrets (which are never OK). Small money secrets are things like loaning a friend or family member a few hundred bucks every now and then. While it’s ideal for couples to be utterly transparent about these things, that’s not realistic — or maybe even healthy. Financial autonomy is important, too. However, big money secrets are things like major purchases or loans that significantly alter a couple’s financial picture. Frankly, there is no way for these secrets to remain hidden for too long. And once they get exposed, the battles will make those epic clashes in Lord of the Rings look like a picnic between Dora the Explorer and Sponge Bob Square Pants.
- Not having shared financial goals.
Last but not least, couples may be compatible when it comes to preferences (including those in bed). But once they tear down the wall that separates their finances, then it’s essential to have shared financial goals. If one partner wants to save for a new entertainment center, and the other partner wants to save for a new car, then sooner or later, something is going to give and it won’t be pretty.
The Bottom Line
Dealing with financial issues is a work in progress, and there will be good days and bad days, ups and down. However, couples who embrace the advice above — and avoid these mistakes — will far more frequently sing “love will keep us together” than “love will tear us apart.”