When you’re just starting to date someone, money can feel like a taboo topic — and may remain that way, even as you share more and more personal information about your families, your hopes, and dreams.
And when you begin to talk about next steps like moving in together, getting married, or combining financial obligations, finding out that your partner isn’t on the same page as you, credit-wise, can seem like a shock. It can also make you second guess your connection, especially if you feel your partner hasn’t been forthcoming about something like bankruptcy or debt.
The good news: Even if there are some issues, being open to discussing tricky financial topics is a sign that you are connected, and can work through problems.
“If someone is willing to talk about their financial vulnerabilities, it can actually be a sign that they trust you,” notes dating coach Cynthia D’Amour.
That said, since “Hey, what’s your credit score?” isn’t exactly a romantic line, here are some ways to maintain open dialogue — which is important even if you aren’t merging bank accounts.
If you’ve just started dating, or aren’t splitting bills beyond dinner, there’s no need to go deep into finances.
But experts say that having general conversations about how you like to spend money can help you see if your values line up to theirs. A good way to gauge this is to ask how they would spend money if they won the lotto.
Obviously, it’s a fantasy question, so you shouldn’t read too much into their answers, but talking about what you would do with a windfall is a good way to introduce the topic of money without putting too much pressure on either of you to talk about your actual cash.
Let’s say your partner likes to drop a few hundred dollars on an expensive meal.
While the bill may drive you nuts, try to focus on why he values this experience. Is he a foodie? Does he love being in-the-know? Does he want to impress you and show you how much you mean to him?
Similarly, ask yourself why this bothers you. Is it because your parents were frugal? Is it because you prefer money to be invested? Is it because you feel like you don’t need fancy dinners to cement your bond?
Whatever the reason is, the more you’re able to pinpoint and discuss the reasons for both of your feelings, the more you can have an honest discussion about the best way forward.
If you’re building credit, you may want to hide the exact number of your debt, or downplay the financial struggles you’ve had. Don’t.
What becomes a deal breaker in most relationships isn’t the number itself, but the dishonesty and lies that might make a partner feel like they can’t trust you or your word. “Omitting information can also be seen as lying, so don’t do it,” says dating expert Bonnie Winston.
Try and find an opportune moment to introduce the subject by sharing a bit of your financial history. Let your partner know that while this is hard for you to discuss and you may want to take time on the details, it is important to you that they know where you are coming from.
Let’s say your partner has some pretty major financial red flags.
While it can be shocking, especially if you’re careful with your money, it’s not uncommon. It’s also key to suss out why they might have gotten into financial trouble.
Were they paying for school? Were they living in an expensive city? You’re not looking for an excuse so much as a reason whether this type of spending may or may not continue in the future.
Finally, look to the future. Does your partner have a plan to pay down their debt (without needing your assistance?) And how will you and your partner align on money goals moving forward?
Many couples — even married ones — decide to split their accounts into yours, mine, and ours, where both partners put money into a mutual bank account to pay for shared expenses like housing. That way, you can still spend (or pay down debt) independently.
If one or both of you are paying down debt, it can be smart to connect with a money counselor or financial coach, who can suggest ways for both of you to approach money and reach your financial goals. Seeing a professional at the beginning of your relationship isn’t a sign of weakness — it is a way to get on secure financial footing to make your relationship even more stable.
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Anna Davies is a writer specializing in personal finance who’s written for Refinery29, Cosmo, Elle, Glamour, the New York Post, Conde Nast Traveler and others. When she’s not working, she loves going on adventures and traveling with her 2-year-old daughter.
This material is designed to provide general information on the subjects covered. It is not, however, intended to provide any specific financial advice or to serve as the basis for any decisions.
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