- According to a survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education, 42% of Americans say they’ve committed financial infidelity.
- Money issues don’t have to derail your relationship, though, as long as you are open to dealing with them–together.
- Mismatched spending habits are a problem, but so is simply not talking about money at all.
- In a healthy relationship, you both should be able to openly discuss money matters—even if one of you handles more of the day-to-day financial management.
We all have our relationship dealbreakers—those red flags that make us want to steer clear. (Rude to waiters? Emotionally checked out? See ya.) But there’s another kind of dealbreaker few of us even think about: money dealbreakers. These dicey behaviors, like overspending in secret, can spell trouble for your relationship.
A few money dealbreakers are particularly bad news, says Olivia Summerhill, a certified financial advisor who counsels couples as they’re getting divorced. “In my experience, the money behaviors that lead to couples breaking up are secrecy, control and unresolved money disorders such as overspending or gambling addiction,” she says.
Not every financial dealbreaker splits couples up, though. In many cases, it’s possible to work through the money weirdness, as long as you’re both willing to face it. Read on for four of the biggest red flags and how to tell whether you can move past them—or should move on.
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Dealbreaker #1: They keep financial secrets
Your significant other hides their rock-bottom credit rating or fails to mention they owe $50,000 in student loans. The real problem isn’t the money problem per se but the secrecy.
“Keeping financial secrets—financial infidelity—is a huge dealbreaker in relationships,” says Pamela Yellen, founder of BankOnYourself.com. And it’s common: 42% of Americans say they’ve committed financial infidelity, according to a survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education. Over one-third of respondents hid bank accounts, purchases, or bills and statements. And 75% of people said when financial infidelity happened, it had a negative effect on their relationship.
Being cagey about money is a no-no because it threatens what most couples hold sacred: trust. Not to mention, Summerhill points out, if someone is being mysterious about money issues, “they may hide other things in the relationship.”
Do you have money skeletons of your own in the closet? “Get them out in the open,” urges Yellen, who is also the author of Rescue Your Retirement: Five Wealth-Killing Traps of 401(k)s, IRAs and Roth Plans—and How to Avoid Them. “Hiding income, assets, spending or debt from your partner now will only cause bigger problems down the road.”
Dealbreaker #2: They’re big overspenders
Are your partner’s three favorite words “add to bag”? If they blow through cash like a Kardashian, that’s a problem for your relationship and bottom line.
Your first step is to get things out in the open. “The best thing you can do is bring it up in a safe, nonjudgemental way,” advises Summerhill. “Your loved one with the problem will need support, and dealing with it becomes more manageable if they are not feeling judged.”
Next, see if your partner is open to keeping a joint budget. Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner in Water Valley, Mississippi, tells clients that the first month with a budget never goes well. But if they can make one small improvement each month, things will improve. “It takes somewhere around three to six months for people to change their behavior around money,” he says.
His other advice for overspenders? Get rid of the credit cards. “If you’re not good with money, having access to a credit card is going to get you in trouble. It’s like having junk food in the house when you’re on a diet,” he says. This is what he likes to remind big spenders: “With debt, you are stealing your future. You are buying something now that you’re going to have to pay for later.”
Dealbreaker #3: They control every aspect of your joint finances
Is one of you the money person? That’s perfectly fine—if the decision is mutual. However, if your partner is the keeper of passwords to bank accounts and shuts down conversations about the details, that’s a flashing neon warning sign.
“Controlling every aspect of the money can be detrimental to a relationship because it doesn’t allow the partnership to thrive,” says Summerhill.
At the very least, she adds, the less-hands-on spouse should know where the accounts are and be involved in the financial decision-making. “It is a responsibility they may not want to have, but it will give them peace of mind throughout the marriage, and they will not regret knowing the basics of their relationship,” Summerhill adds.
Dealbreaker #4: They won’t talk about money at all
Getting shut down or stonewalled any time you try to bring up financial concerns or details is a big uh-oh. In a healthy relationship, you both should be able to openly discuss money matters—even if one of you handles more of the bill paying and investments.
Yet it’s all-too-common to face this dealbreaker, Yellen says. The first step is to set up a standing time to talk through your finances. “Since so many couples don’t talk openly about money, when money issues do come up, it becomes a sensitive subject and leads to conflict,” she says. “The solution is to sit down with your partner every month and go over your spending and savings plan.”
If you two are having trouble discussing money challenges, your best bet is to bring in professional support in the form of a financial therapist or money coach, says Summerhill: “These experts allow your partner to feel heard, not get defensive, and work on the root cause of the money issue.”