Love and Money

 How well do you (think you) know your significant other?

The passage of time—shared experiences and the process of getting to know each other reveals much—and yet I learned something new about my partner of some four decades just last week!

That brought to mind one of the favorite game shows of my youth was The Newlywed Game. The show featured four couples—all of which were to have been married less than two years. Each of the contestant couples were separated—then asked a series of questions designed to test these newlywed couples’ knowledge of each other, and in some cases their collective memories (and willingness to share publicly). Points were assigned based on answers that matched—but the most memorable, of course, were the missed matches—and the inevitable response of the spouse who was absolutely CERTAIN of the response of their partner.  

Now, a year of marriage is arguably not long enough to know EVERYTHING about your partner. But, and with Valentine’s Day looming, a couple of industry surveys remind us that, while money can’t “buy me love,” it can be a relationship “breaker.”

Indeed, a new survey by Empower asserts that spending habits (38%) and budgeting (33%) are the money topics most likely to lead to disagreements in relationships followed by financial priorities/goals (20%). Over a third of couples (37%) say money is a big relationship stress point, with Gen Zers feeling the most strain around financial issues (48%). Retirement planning/savings, while on the disagreements list, was pretty far down—cited by only 10%—though one assumes that is largely because of its relatively distant timing impact(s).

Fidelity Investments’ 2024 Couples and Money study notes that 45% of partners admit they argue about money at least occasionally—and more than 1 in 4 couples identify money as their greatest relationship challenge. Fidelity’s survey is interesting in that it—like that old Newlywed Game show—surveys couples individually before bringing their answers together to analyze and identify where couples are doing well with their communication and finances. Those couples give themselves high marks on that score—with nearly 9 in 10 claiming they communicate well or very well with their partner.

On that account, the Fidelity report notes that more than a third of couples miss the mark when it comes to how much income their significant other makes—and more than a quarter (27%) admit to being often frustrated by their partner’s money habits, but say they let it go for the sake of keeping the peace. More than half—but just over half (54%) cite as their top financial concern having enough money saved for retirement. Only about half (57%) work together on making decisions about retirement savings and other long-term goals.[i] The good news is more than half of respondents feel very good or excellent about their financial health and 27% of Boomers say building a financial plan together is their love language.   

Inevitably couples are comprised of individuals who have different interests and aptitudes—and money and finances, in particular, can be a sensitive subject. We’re often caught between a fear of being judged—or convinced that judgement is required in order to achieve financial order, but worried that expressing that concern will lead to arguments—or worse. It’s something to bear in mind this Valentine’s Day amidst all the candy, flowers and romantic dinners. 

One thing seems certain, however; just as healthy long-term relationships are built on trust and openness—so are their healthy finances.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD 

[i] When it comes to having a vision for retirement, Fidelity found that couples are mostly aligned on how they want to be spending their time—with family, friends, traveling, and their hobbies—though about half (53%) of couples who have not yet retired express conflicting views on how much they need to have saved to retire.

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