3 Questions to Ask Before Joining Finances with Your Partner

Perfection isn’t possible, but compassionate compromise is.

Posted Jul 10, 2019 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

Alex Holyoake / Unsplash
Source: Alex Holyoake / Unsplash

Some issues are pretty easy to discuss with a romantic partner — who’s in charge of grocery shopping, which Netflix show to binge next, and how to properly load the dishwasher. Other issues, like finances, are a little more — or a lot — more taboo. And if you grew up in a family that didn’t really discuss money, broaching the topic of finances may not seem easy, and sorting out the details of joining bank accounts may incite anxiety. It doesn’t have to. 

The main message I try to convey to coupled clients on the brink of financial union is that it’s okay, and totally necessary, to talk about money. And it’s equally okay and normal to disagree about money. A lot of partners assume their financial philosophies have to perfectly align in order to achieve long-term success and happiness. That’s just not true. It’s unrealistic to expect two unique individuals from different backgrounds to be perfectly in sync about each and every detail of adulting. But while perfection isn’t possible, compassionate compromise is. To get to that place, you and your partner have some questions to ask each other, with full understanding that your answers don’t need to match; they just have to be flexible and up for discussion:

  1. What was your experience with money growing up? Understanding where your partner is coming from can go a long way toward informing how they approach finances as an adult. Linking a person’s experience around money in their family of origin to their current values around cash can be a really useful way of exploring long-held beliefs, fears, and goals. Did their parents spend very cautiously throughout your childhood? Did they spend freely on vacations but kept the purse strings tight in other areas? Were they actively planning for retirement during their working years? Comparing your backgrounds can open up the dialogue and get you started from a place of honesty and empathy.

  2. What are the areas you prioritize for spending? It can be hard to take yourself outside of your everyday reality, but listening to your partner’s list of investments may open your eyes to what others consider valuable. Do they prefer to spend money on high-quality food and skimp on the contents of their closet? Would you rather squirrel away money for travel and economize on your daily commute? Are you the total opposites of each other? If so, again, that’s okay, but you’ll never know where you both stand if you don’t discuss these things openly. Getting to know what each of you considers important will help you find areas of common ground and areas where you’ll need to compromise. 

  3. Are there long-term goals you’re striving for? Even if you’re years away from contemplating kids or decades away from retirement, talking about these topics and others is an important step in the financial planning process. Your partner can’t read your mind, so being candid about your hopes and dreams — and how money plays into them — is essential. Do you want to eventually buy a house? Will you need to factor in child care at some point? Are you dead-set on an international getaway? How are you preparing for retirement? Discussing all of these things will help you both figure out how to help one another achieve the big stuff while strategizing ways to remain realistic and on the same page. 

Genny Finkel, LCSW, specializes in supporting individuals and couples reach their goals and foster healthy relationships. At Octave, she runs a four-session course called #RelationshipGoals.