There are several factors about money that you must consider. First, you have to go out and earn it, which takes hard work and often keeps you away from each other, and away from your family. This can lead to resentment and guilt, depending on whether you feel your partner isn’t working hard enough, or whether you suspect you may be working too hard and not spending enough time at home.
Another aggravating factor is the weird obsession with money that we grow up with in our society. Both money and sex are surrounded by cultural taboos and fetishes that frequently cause people to grow up feeling weird about them. We brag about both money and sex, and we are bombarded constantly with messages in movies and music about making lots of money, showing it off, and having lots of sex. It’s amazing, given how we are always drowning in these messages, that any of us grow up with a healthy attitude towards either sex or money. It’s no wonder these two things are the leading killers of marriages.
Growing up, we are introduced to money early on via an allowance, or gifts from relatives and friends, and we quickly learn its magic power to bring us things we want. We pay particular attention to our parents’ attitudes towards money, whether they have too little or too much, whether they hoard it or splurge with it, and those attitudes can stay with us throughout our lives. If our parents are poor, struggle for money, or blame the government or other factors for never having enough of it, we will also pick up on those attitudes. Later, we learn about credit, which is both a great boon and sometimes a tragedy bringing much regret and guilt with it. Many adults still remember the heady feeling of the first time they bought something on credit – it made them feel powerful and grown up, often for the first time.
Because each of us have our own personal hang ups about money, it is important to first understand ourselves before we start trying to fix our relationships.
So, start by taking an honest look at your own feelings about money. Take time to write down your thoughts. What was your family’s attitude towards money when you were growing up? How did that affect you? Do you have enough money now? How much time do you spend thinking about money? Do you dream about striking it rich, winning the lottery, or some other big windfall that will change your life? Do you feel like if you had enough money your other problems would all go away?
How do you feel when you give or receive gifts?
How do you spend your money? Do you save some of it in the bank, or invest it? How much of your income do you save? Why do you save and invest that amount of money?
Are you in debt? What kind of debt do you owe? Is it secured debt – i.e. a car or house or other asset that can be repossessed by the bank if you default? Or is it unsecured credit card debt? How do you feel about your debts? Do you feel guilty about them? Do you worry about being able to pay them? Are you angry and resentful of the people to whom you owe money?
What are your dreams about money? Do you plan to be promoted or get a raise at your job in the future, and to make more money as a result? How do you feel about your job? Is it a fulfilling career or more of a thankless task you have to complete in order to make money?
Once you’ve taken some time to better understand where you’re coming from, you have a better chance of working out an equitable division of finances in your marriage or relationship.
The best way to start is to have an honest, open conversation with your partner about money. Both of you should print out your bank statements, or at least have a written record of how much you earn and spend, particularly what you spend on joint expenses that are part of the relationship. Go through them together and talk about them. If you see patterns that you wish to change, talk together about how to do that.
Sure, if you’re just starting out dating, there’s no need for this kind of thing. But you should still at some point be clear with each other about your finances. If you both have jobs and sufficient income, you should each pay for some of your dates, or split the costs between you. This is the adult thing to do, and it starts your relationship off on a good foundation. If only one of you has a job, or one of you has much more money than the other, then you can arrange things differently. But beware that money, or the lack of it, can create resentments you might never expect, in either the richer partner or the poorer. The richer person can begin to feel like they are spending too much, or that the other person somehow “owes” them something for all the money they are spending, whether it is love, loyalty or sex. And the poorer one can begin to feel guilty about all the money being spent on their behalf. These feelings are often subconscious or unconscious, so unless you go looking for them, they are only likely to show up in a sudden explosion during a fight.
So, whatever stage your relationship is at, be clear and honest about your financial situation, and talk with your partner about your emotions, fears, and dreams regarding money. Remember there are two of you, and that means you can and should help each other out when possible.
If you’re in a long-term relationship, like marriage, arrange regular financial “check in” meetings with your partner. Neither of you should ever be in doubt about the other’s financial situation. And remember that “intimacy” means knowing your partner’s mind as well as just their naked body. You should have a pretty good idea what your spouse or partner hopes for and dreams about, and what their fears are, particularly about money. Meet once a month, or at least once a quarter, and balance your relationship’s books. Once you’ve done this for a while, you will both be much more comfortable doing it, and much of money’s power to wreck your relationship will be gone.
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of actually splitting your expenses, there are many different ways to do it. The most important thing is not which particular way you do it, but rather that you both understand and agree about it. And the best way to do that is to check in regularly so you both know what’s going on.