Talking about intimate financial details with your partner can seem scary, but it doesn't have to be. It's a chance for the two of you to be vulnerable with each other and decide how you'll tackle these issues or future money obstacles together.
When you are ready to sit down with your partner, experts say you should be as candid as possible.
"Debt can have a lot of shame attached to it, but don't sugarcoat it," says Nathan Astle, a board member with Financial Therapy Association. "Even though it might not be comfortable, you definitely want to be as open and fully transparent as possible."
Here's how you can tackle conversations with your partner about three important money topics — and come out ahead in your finances and in your relationship.
Nearly 4 in 10 student loan borrowers say that their debt has affected their relationships with significant others, according to a recent report by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) and the MIT AgeLab.
Communicating with your partner about your student loans and other debt is crucial because those balances can significantly delay saving for other financial milestones like getting married, purchasing your first home, or having a child.
Your partner should know the severity of your debt, and you should be prepared to talk through what your plan is for repayment. This will give them a better idea of how your debt may affect the timeline of your relationship.
Astle says your first step is a small one. Sit down with your partner and simply mention that you have debt.
"We call it toe dipping, but it's basically when I tell you I have some debt and wait to see how you react," says Astle. "Based on your partner's reaction, you'll be able to gauge how to best approach the conversation, and how much you're ready to tell them."
A good place to start with student debt in particular is by explaining to your partner why you chose your college, and how having student loans makes you feel, Cynthia Borges-O'Dell, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Modesto, California, told Grow earlier this year. That helps your partner understand how the debt became part of your financial picture, and what you hoped to gain as a result.
"For partners, it's really important to try to understand where their money philosophy came from, or their financial flash-point, which is basically any childhood experience that influences your view about money," says Astle. "Your partner has a whole history with money that you may or may not know about."
These family stories may not be easy to share, and the resulting habits could be ones you argue about. For example, if you or your partner grew up in a home where money was always tight and it caused conflict, you may associate money with negative feelings. Because of that history, you may choose to avoid taking a hands-on approach to your finances through careful planning or budgeting.
Astle says that talking about your financial histories and habits can actually strengthen your relationship as you work to form better habits together and change the dynamic.
"You'll get to a place where you can say, 'I know I can be money avoidant because of XYZ experience, but I don't want this to affect us,'" he says. "Then instead of it being a you versus me issue, it becomes you and me versus the problem."
About 6 in 10 attorneys say they have seen a boost in requests for prenuptial agreements, according to a 2016 survey cited from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Prenups seem to be on the rise, but despite their increasing popularity, Astle says they can be a difficult topic to bring up with your partner.
"It is a conversation you want to approach carefully," says Astle. "You have to be really open and honest about the purpose of the prenup, why you think it's important for your finances, and separating the idea of the prenup from the relationship."
Video by Jason Armesto
Make it clear to your partner that the prenup isn't a reflection of the relationship, but more of a safeguard to minimize litigation in the event that your assets ever need to be divided. Marriage is a contract, and a prenup should just be looked at as your first contract within that marriage, Yesenia Rivera-Sipes, a lawyer in Yonkers, New York, who specializes in family and matrimonial law, told Grow earlier this year.
"Most couples draft their prenup, sign it, and then put it in a box and never look at it again, so you can't take it too personally. It's just another layer of protection in place," Rivera-Sipes says.
No matter what decision you come to, having these tricky discussions in a respectful and honest way can set the tone for your relationship.
"Oftentimes, couples don't agree on money matters, and that's OK," says Astle. "If couples can learn to validate their partners and where their partner is coming from, this really helps. ... Problem solving doesn't really happen well unless both partners are feeling heard."
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