Watch two lovers gaze into each other’s eyes and you can just about see the hearts and flowers fluttering around their heads like Cinderella’s birds. You might even hear the crescendo of tender music and the whisper of such pithy statements as, “You had me at ‘Hello’,” or “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
When lovers look starry-eyed they’re not usually in the midst of managing financial relationship expectations. You don’t anticipate hearing one of them say, “What’s your credit score?”, or “I’d like to see your total debt balance sheet, please.” Yet, according to research recently published by NerdWallet, if you want to be on the financial safe side those two questions should precede any “You complete me” mushy moment.
In a survey of a little over 2,000 adults the number of men (yes, they’re the bigger culprit) capped women 42% versus 29% when it comes to bringing (an average of $4,100) credit card debt into a relationship. In fact, credit card debt led the deficit category at 35% beating out car loans (25%), mortgage debt (23%) and student loans (15%). Millennials (defined as 18 to 24) are the biggest debtors at 45%, with the numbers steadily falling for other age groups to 22% for the over 65 set.
Interestingly, only 25% of survey participants reported a partner’s financial debt as a problem in the relationship. How comfortable are you with your (potential) partner’s financial status? Before your next Rhett and Scarlett or Bogey and Becall moment consider these precautions for making sure your potential mate is a good financial match.
While you don’t have to find your financial mirror image Forbes.com writer, Laura Shin, suggests being awake and aware. Quoting money as the leading cause of fights (and predictor for divorce) among couples, Shin suggests a proactive approach to learning each other, including recognizing your own and your partner’s financial habits, behaviors and patterns (including the red flags), and daring to explore money—and the questions it begs—as part of the topics you discuss as a couple.
Notice warning signs:
While love and the desire for it can cloud your judgment the objective harbingers of financial fiasco remain plenty visible—if you’re willing to see them. Co-founder of ClubThrifty.com, Holly Johnson, advises honestly acknowledging as potential problems the following characteristics in any potential mate: living paycheck to paycheck, frequently unemployment, lack of concern for debt and credit problems, lack of retirement planning and unchecked generosity.
Identifying problems doesn’t have to mean the end of love. Rather, discovering what’s in your partner’s wallet can open the door to a new corridor of romance: managing issues together. Former Chief Content Editor at LearnVest.com, Carrie Sloan pairs being aware of problems with specific actions. For every red flag Sloan offers ideas that range from practicing compassion (understanding that anyone can lose a job or get in debt) to proactive connection (being frank in your financial discussions, including outlining expectations for honesty, behavior and funds management).
As uncomfortable as probing questions might be, taking a peek behind your partner’s financial curtain and deliberately managing financial relationship expectations together can pave the way to a stronger and more lasting relationship. Researchers at North Carolina State University recently found that three strategies helped couples manage financial uncertainty: reducing uncertainty, maintaining it, or adapting to it. In addition, couples employed “strategic communication,” specifically designing non-confrontational discussions to address subjects of spending and financial planning, and “communal coping,” a process by which partners perceive financial uncertainty as a joint problem to be approached through a united front.
In an official statement about the study she conducted Lynsey Romo, an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University explains, “The biggest takeaway here is that there are things people can do to help deal with financial uncertainty. Seeking out information, talking about money with your partner, working as a team, and becoming financially literate can reduce uncertainty—and the related stress that uncertainty can cause in a relationship.”
Facing issues and overcoming them together strengthens bonds, deepens connection, and can solidify love. What might initially look like a deal-breaker (a negative financial footprint) can actually become a process that speeds up the road to romance. With happiness as the possible outcome of managing financial relationship expectations the question, “What’s in your wallet?” could become more than a banking slogan; it could be your own personal mating call.