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How money can build or break your relationship, according to experts

Relationship and money go hand-in-hand. Here's how you can improve in both areas, from experts.

EmirMemedovski | E+ | Getty Images

It's well known that money is one of the most common subjects for couples to argue about. A 2019 study from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville reported that regardless of the happiness level within the relationship, money is a topic that couples consistently disagree on.

However, talking finances aren't always a negative, especially if you're single and actively dating. A recent study from eToro suggests owning cryptocurrency and placing that in your online dating profile makes you more desirable.

So regardless if you're married, casually dating or somewhere in the middle, how can Americans continue to maintain and build healthy relationships while also continuing to work towards their financial goals? Select talked to two experts about what people can do to improve their money and intimate relationships.

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How dating and money intersects

It's not a secret that people in committed relationships tend to perform well financially. A Pew Research study found that in 2019, men and women both earned more and were more financially sound in a committed relationship. However, that doesn't mean someone should date solely for financial security.

But if you're actively dating, it's normal to be curious of a potential partner's financial situation, regardless of where you're at in the dating process. Damona Hoffman, OkCupid Dating Coach and Host of The Dates & Mates Podcast, suggests "daters who get better with their money will naturally attract better dating prospects because it is still one of the primary attractors in our society."

In fact, the likelihood of a single saying wealth is important in a match nearly doubled on OkCupid during the pandemic. Hoffman said this was likely because financial security was low for many as unemployment rates skyrocketed in the early months of the Covid-19 induced shutdowns.

So having more money than less is definitely a "plus" on the dating market.

Unfortunately, the exact thing that can be attractive to so many can also cause the end of a relationship. According to a survey from the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, "money issues" is the third leading cause of divorce — behind "basic incompatibility" and "infidelity". One respondent of the survey stated, "many couples lack the communication skills necessary to navigate financial disagreements in their marriage."

So how can something that is a "plus" be the end to so many relationships?

The psychology of money and relationships

There is no one key to success in any relationship, but common themes among strong relationships are shared values and common goals. And when the subject of personal finance arises, Hoffman suggests you'll naturally begin to reveal your goals and values.

She said, "you're unlikely to be perfectly aligned on those [goals and values], but discussing them offers you an opportunity to understand your partner and find compromise on those important choices."

And these values are formed much before you earn your first dollar.

Dr. Alex Melkumian, founder of the Financial Psychology Center in Los Angeles, CA, told Select how everyone's "money story" starts at childhood. "The foundation of anyone's understanding and relationship with money is based with their family of origin coupled with any financial literacy education they receive throughout their life," he said.

Because we're all raised differently and come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, how we think about and understand money can vary significantly from person to person. Dr. Melkumian added, "It's rare that in a romantic relationship both partners come to it with the same, or similar, money story."

So regardless of what your upbringing is, and how difficult discussing money can be, it's imperative to have the conversation with your significant other.

How to talk about money while dating, or with an established partner

Talking about money can be difficult in any setting, whether its dating, asking for a raise at work or even among friends.

If you're money situation is less than ideal, it can bring fears of judgement or embarrassment. If you're financially savvy and enjoy talking about subjects like your Roth IRA or the latest meme stock, it can bring up resentment from others.

So before you have your next money conversation, keep in mind a few do's and don'ts:

  • Take time to understand each other's values: If one person loves spending money on going out to eat, while the other prefers to avoid eating out to save money, this could present a difference in values. Make sure you discuss with one another how and why you value certain things.
  • Be clear about who pays for what: It should never be a guessing game of who is paying for something. The right time to figure that out isn't when the bill comes or when you are standing in front of a register, but before the issue arises altogether.
  • Don't impose on someone else: Like Dr. Melkumian said, everyone has a different money story. And that journey can impact how someone acts towards money, and acts towards someone else. But regardless of the situation, don't impose your money story or strategies on a significant other. It can lead towards resentment and other issues.
  • If you're considering marriage, get 'financially naked': Did you know one-third of Americans admit they financially cheat on a partner? While it may not be sexual infidelity, financial infidelity can be just as destructive. So if you're considering taking the next step in your relationship, it's extremely important to make sure you talk about potentially difficult subjects like credit card debt or student loans.

Bottom line

Talking about money is difficult, especially while dating or in a relationship. In fact, a Wells Fargo survey showed people feel that discussing politics or religion is easier than talking about personal finance. But both Dr. Melkumian and Hoffman are adamant about the importance of discussing money at any stage of an intimate relationship.

Whether it's casually talking about the next up-and-coming cryptocurrency coin on a date, or discussing investing goals with a soon-to-be spouse, an open-and-honest conversation can do wonders for your current or future relationship.

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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