How To Avoid Breaking Up Because Of Money

We at R29 are fans of just about every relationship status out there — provided it's a healthy one. If you're single and loving it, awesome. Dedicated to ethical non-monogamy? Love it. In a happy couple and everything's hunky-dory? Great! You and your sweetie are sure to be together for the long haul — just as long as you've had many serious conversations about your finances, that is.

What's that? You guys haven't talked about money yet? Well, this is awkward.

We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but according to new survey results from LearnVest, one in four people has broken up with a partner over money problems. That's no small number: One in four means that any given group of friends likely includes at least one person who has experienced a finance-fueled breakup. Plus, 77% of millennials say their finances are more of a source of stress in their relationship than sex is, according to LearnVest.

Why is that? Is it because there exists a sort of social script for how to ask for what we want in bed, whereas talking about money is just plain...unsexy? How can we turn that around and make sure those important conversations happen?

We spoke with LearnVest founder and CEO Alexa von Tobel, CFP, to find the answers to those questions and more. Read on for von Tobel's top tips for how to keep your finances from destroying your relationship.
Advertisement
1 of 8
Illustrated by Hejab Malik.
This is the financial version of the tried-and-true airline mantra: Affix your own oxygen mask before assisting others, people. This advice, Alexa explains, is crucial regardless of whether you're single or partnered.

"It’s really important to have a positive money relationship with yourself," she says. "You don’t ignore money; you tackle it. Personal finance should be in every woman’s toolkit, independent and regardless of their relationship status or stage in life. This is a life skill we all need — to be the best girl bosses we can be." Hear, hear.

And don't you dare think your finances are beyond hope because you have bad credit or zero retirement savings or some such nonsense. The first step in addressing any problem is facing it — and you can start doing that exactly where you are.
2 of 8
Illustrated by Hejab Malik.
You may think you and your partner are fighting about money. On the other hand, you may think that because you and your partner don't fight about money, it means you don't have any problems and therefore don't need to talk about it. Nope: In both of these situations, you really do need to talk about money. Because conversations with your boo "about money" are not actually about the money. Confused? Let Alexa explain.

"When you’re talking about your personal finances, what you're really asking is, how are we prioritizing what we’re striving towards together?" Alexa says. "Are we buying a home, are we having kids, are we paying off your student debt or sending me to business school, are we paying for your parents who are nearing retirement? It’s about aligning values on how you’re operating as a united front in your families. If you and your partner are really aligned in terms of your money goals, you have significantly fewer fights."

Certain money squabbles may seem minor, but they can actually act as a stand-in for bigger relationship problems. "If you've both decided to save a certain amount to buy a house, but instead one of you is spending on a football game or eating out or an extravagant present, it’s misalignment," Alexa explains. "And if that happens in multiple places in your life, as a result, you're not saving for the home you want or the goals you want. Those really begin to add up, and what it creates is tremendous cracks in your relationship. 90% of fights in a marriage are over money — but it's really not about the money."
Advertisement
3 of 8
Illustrated by Hejab Malik.
This is the most important — and often most difficult — step. Because, like we mentioned, it's a lot more fun to jump-start a discussion about sex (or your weekend plans, or what you want to order for dinner, or the current state of the union) than one about finances. But it does get easier.

"The more you talk about money, the less stressful it is," Alexa explains. "If you avoid it altogether, it becomes very hard to tackle. But even the most financially sound couples have things they need to work through. You just need to get the conversation going. That’s why we’re so focused on this huge campaign at Learnvest: 'Have the talk.'"
4 of 8
Illustrated by Hejab Malik.
But don't get too gung-ho about Having The Talk that you bring it up while you're on your way out the door — or while you're cry-hating your way through This Is Us.

"Have it in a safe zone, when it’s just the two of you," Alexa urges. "No kids climbing on your legs, and not after you've had a bunch of alcohol. The money talk can be a really fun, positive conversation."

And now that you know it's not just about the money, come prepared with what it really is about — for you, right now. Alexa suggests opening with, "I’m thinking about buying an apartment," or "so, how many kids are we saving for?" Talk about your big-picture rotation of financial support: "Are you going to stay at your job for two or three years while I go to school?"

"It's about tagging in and out," Alexa explains. "Someone's always allowed to change their mind — you have to come prepared and open to that." Which leads us to...
5 of 8
Illustrated by Hejab Malik.
If you're charging into your money talk with plenty of accusations as ammo — don't. Berating your partner for his or her expenditures (or poor savings habits, or debt, or what have you) is not going to fix anything.

"You cannot be judgmental," Alexa insists. "Maybe one of you is ashamed of your financial situation. The other cannot judge that. This conversation needs to be a judgment-free zone, or you'll never get to a place where you're making progress. Also, someone who's feeling judged is not going to be motivated to make these conversations regularly recurring — which they absolutely should be."
6 of 8
Illustrated by Hejab Malik.
Now that you're immersed in your chill, judgment-free money-talk zone with your partner, just make sure that you're saying "we."

"Think of it as 'our money,'" Alexa explains, "because regardless of how you share or split your finances, you are a team. You make decisions together." It's just as important to take into account your shared goals as your individual needs.

That said, Alexa suggests three different examples of how you could feasibly organize your finances: all together, totally separate, or half and half. "You have to pick the right framework for how to combine (or not combine) your money with your partner's," she explains. "If you're having problems, it can be better to combine some and leave some separate so that you have the autonomy you need. No matter what, you want to figure out your own system together."
7 of 8
Illustrated by Hejab Malik.
"The worst thing you can do is literally not being honest with each other financially," Alexa says. "I’ve kind of seen it all. A person can be married for 20 years and find out that their partner has 60K in secret credit card debt. If you're feeling so inflexible and judged that you can't be honest with your partner about money, you’re not actually making the choices that you want to make for yourself. You need that trust to be really flawless."

Honesty is always the best policy, but when it comes to money and your relationship, it's also the only way forward.
8 of 8
Advertisement