When we enter a new romantic relationship, we’re usually swept into an exciting inner world fuelled by passion, long conversations, and vulnerability. Intoxicated by the idea of possibility (and sometimes a shared bottle of red wine), we spend the night, make future plans, and even open up about our past with this person. Over time, we become closer with our partners in every sense of the word, cultivating physical and emotional intimacy with them. And though physical and emotional intimacy are building blocks in any healthy relationship's foundation, all too often, we neglect another type of fundamental intimacy: financial intimacy.
Here is how to cultivate, examine, and foster healthy financial intimacy in your relationship and build a stronger foundation based on trust and respect.
What is financial intimacy?
As the name would suggest, financial intimacy is a lot like emotional intimacy: it's the exchange of thoughts, feelings, past experiences, and confessions related to the topic of money. If we really cut to the chase, it's all about getting uncomfortable, honest, and transparent with one another regarding the taboo topic of money.
What is your relationship with money like?
What messages did you receive about money as a child?
Do you operate from a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset?
How much debt do you currently have?
Don't worry; these don't need to be first-date talking points. In fact, experts agree you should build to talks centered around money. However, your relationship should be headed in a direction that fosters openness and acceptance. Similar to its emotional counterpart, financial intimacy — or a lack thereof — can contribute to the bond shared between a couple. Essentially, financial intimacy begs the question, how "naked" are we getting with our partner regarding money?
But if the idea of "financial intimacy" has you feeling a bit exposed, you aren't alone. In American culture, the topic of money is still taboo. And interestingly, the more you have of it, the less likely you are to talk about it, according to reports. Some 34% of cohabiting couples didn't know how much their partner made regardless of marital status. Yet nearly 50% of couples list finances as their top point of conflict. Something just isn't adding up.
What does healthy financial intimacy look like?
A couple with a healthy level of financial intimacy is having an ongoing dialogue about money, both as a concept and how it relates to their lives. They are open about their spending, yearly income, and hopes for the future. Typically, they talk about their past mistakes, recent successes, and poor decisions of the past. (Hello, maxed-out college credit card.). Most importantly, there's a level of acceptance with one another; the fewer secrets there are, the healthier a couple will be.
When sitting down with Psych Central, a financial psychologist and director of research at H&R Block Dollars & Sense, Brad Klontz, PsyD, shared that "Financial health is having a conscious and purposeful relationship with money that is satisfying and isn't overly stressful." Taking that into account, perhaps financial intimacy looks like listing out your values as a couple and learning how it correlates to money. Understanding what makes the other tick, and you each prefer to handle your respective finances.
Ultimately, when a couple shares a deep level of financial intimacy, they share and demonstrate a high level of trust and respect for one another. Money is a topic that brings them closer together, not apart.
Warning signs that your relationship lacks financial intimacy
How do I know if we lack financial intimacy?
Because so many of us were conditioned to believe money and politics were two topics "we just don't talk about," it's hard to know where we sit on the spectrum of financial health, let alone know if we're fostering financial intimacy in our relationships.
While we can't speak for every couple, here are some red flags that signal your relationship might deserve some extra attention:
You're keeping secrets from your partner related to your spending.
You aren't aware of each other's income.
You can't identify your partner's current financial goals and/or blind spots.
You don’t have a budget as partners (unless, of course, you've agreed not to have one.)
The good news is that this doesn't mean your relationship is doomed. Instead, it's an area for improvement and a sign that you and your partner will grow closer with each conversation.
How to cultivate healthier financial intimacy in a relationship
Whether you're starting from scratch or already have a healthy rapport with your significant other, cultivating financial intimacy is never too late in a relationship. For newer couples or couples who didn't prioritize money conversations early on, start with the baby steps. Open up about where you are in the present day with debt, your credit score, and current spending habits.
For couples who have covered the aforementioned bases, you're not off the hook. Do you understand how past childhood trauma affected your significant other's relationship with money? Or do you have any idea when they plan to retire — and where? So much of our later life decisions (family planning, retirement, travel) will be influenced by decisions made years before.
So, it's time to talk, but you're unsure of how to start the conversation. Thankfully, it doesn't need to be a conversation with pounding hearts and sweaty palms. Like with so many difficult conversations, it's not what you say — it's how you say it. Don't treat the dialogue like an interrogation; approach the conversation with empathy and an open mind.
One tip is framing questions as "what if" questions. Allison Kade, a millennial money expert with Fabric, told Business Insider. "‘What if’ questions allow you to start understanding their underlying psychology by asking broader questions." Some examples of "what if" questions:
If money didn't matter, how would your everyday life be different?
If salaries weren't a thing, what job would you have?
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
You just won 1 million dollars; what are the first three purchases you would make?
Because these types of conversations will be had for years to come, here are more tips for creating healthy boundaries.
Do not avoid having the 'money talk.' Host a regular "money date" on the calendar, and make it something you both look forward to.
Allow both parties to manage the budget in different capacities. If you're living under the same roof, allow each party to have responsibility for money management. One partner can handle groceries; the other can handle utilities. But no matter how you divvy it up, there should be transparency into what the other is doing.
Recognize your differences and uplift each other in positive ways. In every couple, there is going to be a spender and a saver. Neither should be made to feel insecure or inferior. Use affirmative language to encourage your partner and meet them where they're at.
Create a budget. Classic, but a step that is missed (or avoided) by countless couples. Having a shared doc or Google sheet or downloading an app like Mint.com is a great starting point.
Have an agreed-upon debt-repayment plan. Should one or both of you be in debt of any kind (home loan, student debt, car, credit card), have a plan to repay your debt and allow your partner to help you stay accountable in a way that feels appropriate to you.
It's important to remember intimacy takes time and space; it won't be developed in one conversation. And remember, when you take a misstep, there's always time to get back on track.