When it comes to money and romance, everyone has a different idea about how much they need to know about their partner's finances. Unfortunately, there can be a natural tension. Not knowing anything has the potential to sabotage your own finances, but pressing to learn too much too early can be over the top.
It's a delicate balance, but suffice it to say that as your relationship grows, what you will need to know about your partner's finances will also grow.
Keeping that in mind, here are suggestions as to how much you should know at different stages of the relationship.
The Dating Phase
Attempting to get too much information at this phase could lead to a premature end to your relationship. For example, if you ask too many money related questions, it may give the impression that you’re anxious to take the relationship to a more serious level than your partner is.
Since this is very much a "getting to know you" phase, you should restrict information gathering to casual observation. How does your partner react to money situations? How well do they live in comparison to their peers? How comfortable do they seem about the cost of their lifestyle? Do they share in mutual expenses, or is there always the expectation that you will pay?
Another area to pay attention to is future aspirations. What does the person expect to do and have later in life? Is there a realistic assessment of what that lifestyle will cost, as well as reasonable assumptions about what it will take to afford it? And depending upon your partner's age, pay close attention to how much he or she is relying on financial help from parents or from others.
Fortunately, career-related questions are much easier to ask, since they are a natural topic in the dating phase. What does she do for a living now? Where does she expect her career to go, and is she making solid plans on how to get there? This is also an outstanding time to assess whether or not your partner’s career is compatible with your own expectations and life. This isn't just about money either. Some careers are very demanding, and could put tremendous stress on the relationship. Are you prepared to deal with whatever their career involves?
A Steady Relationship, With the Expectation of a Shared Future
As the relationship deepens, you will obviously need to know more about your partner's finances. Many times, your partner's finances will be revealed without much effort.
Part of that comes from casual conversation. As your relationship grows, financial discussions are a natural outcome. It will be hard for them to hide the fact that they are experiencing financial stress from excessive credit card debt. If they’re on a fast track with their retirement savings, it may be something they are very proud of and willing to talk about.
Planning a vacation together is the perfect way to learn about your partner's finances. Do they willingly pay their share of the expenses? Do they complain about the expenses – subtly or otherwise? When it comes time to pay, is the money there?
More information may also come by accident. Your partner may want you to take a look at a statement or document that may be confusing. Such episodes are likely to become more frequent the longer you’re together. On the flipside, if they don't happen – or if your partner seems to be focused on making sure that you don't ever see anything – it's almost certainly time for a serious heart-to-heart discussion about money.
Moving In Together
If your relationship reaches the point where you’re planning to move in together, then money questions become both serious and practical. Living together will require sharing expenses; is your partner both willing and able to do so? And even more important, are they willing to prove that they can?
This is the point in a relationship where you should both be more open about your respective financial situations. It would not be unreasonable to share income documentation, bank statements, and even credit reports. After all, you will almost certainly have to provide that information to a prospective landlord. Moving in together means that your partnership is no longer just romantic, but also financial.
Reluctance to discuss finances before marriage must disappear for at least four reasons:
- There is a strong connection between money and divorce, and lack of willingness to be open about the subject could doom a marriage.
- You will be financially dependent upon each other; as will your children, should you decide to have any, and it's necessary to know how solid that reliance can be.
- Life can throw difficult situations upon us, including job loss, illness and other disasters that will require a certain amount of money to address.
- A lack of willingness to be forthcoming with finances can limit openness in the relationship, and may be an indication of other troubles. For these reasons, you should fully expect that money and finances should be an open discussion, complete with full disclosure. This is best done before the marriage. If you delay the money talk until you're already married, you may find out quickly that you're financially incompatible.
At this point, you should be approximately on the same page as far as major lifestyle purchases (cars, home, travel, personal possessions), as well as credit management and savings goals. All will affect your lives together, as well as your success as a couple.
Marriage is not the time to go light on the money talk. And at this point in your relationship, you should be comfortable asking to see bank statements and credit reports for each other, as well as income information. Considering the risks of not getting this information, and the implications of your partner refusing to provide it should be all the motivation that you need to ask the tough questions.
The Bottom LineEach step of a relationship requires a different approach when it comes to money. As the relationship progresses, it’s more and more important that you have a good understanding of how the other person manages their finances.