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How Important is Financial Compatibility in a Relationship?

Money Love

If you believe in old-school relationship advice then there are three tenets: don’t talk about religion, don’t talk about politics, and don’t talk about money. Here at Verywell, we’re not so sure. Finances, especially, are a touchy subject for many people, whether they’re in the early stages of a relationship or have been together for decades. But in reality, financial compatibility with a partner is more significant than you might think.

The prevailing wisdom of the experts who spoke to us for this story? Financial compatibility isn’t about making the same amount of money, it’s about being comfortable with how your partner relates to it. It’s also essential to get rid of old stereotypes. In most modern relationships the man is no longer expected to be the breadwinner, women aren’t the only ones staying home with the kids, and everyone makes big financial decisions together. And with any financial decision or habit, it’s important to be on the same page as your partner.

Financial compatibility means you and the person you are in a relationship with are on the same page about money. We all have our own opinions and habits when it comes to saving or spending, and if your partner’s views are very different from your own, it could cause conflict and be a sign of financial incompatibility. There are also several red flags to watch out for when it comes to money, namely: debt and overspending. If you have concerns about your partner’s money habits, make sure you have an honest, in-depth conversation about the topic.

How Money and Dating Intersect

Georgina Sturmer (BACP), a UK-based counsellor, says that when she sees clients, finances are often underlying or “sub-topic” but that financial concerns are usually rooted in how they were brought up. “Our approach to finances is often shaped by our upbringing and personal history, in the same way that our approach to relationships is shaped by these factors. If we have conflicting approaches to financial management, it can lead to anxiety, frustration, resentment, anger, mistrust, and fear.”

Differences in financial approaches can be seen as early as grade school. According to 2018 data from the US’ National Center for Education Statistics—which did not include information on non-binary or transgender participants—women were more likely to talk with their family about the home’s budget, but men were more likely to talk about financial news.

Amy Colton (MBA) works with clients on a wide array of financial matters, with a large amount of her work focused on those going through divorce. She says that tension often arises when one person is more a spender and the other is a saver, but that usually there is one person who takes the lead on the finances. “Generally, one party is more focused on the finances than the other. And sometimes it’s a control issue, and sometimes it’s just a natural interest.”


Money and Gender/Societal Roles

Uncomfortable questions about money are not unique to one group or community. Jenny Lozano-Rivera (LCSW), who works in both private practice and as the emergency services mental health manager at Palisades Medical Center, sees cultural discussions as vital when it comes to finances.

She says that this conversation can be especially important where gender roles come into play: like if a man has been socialized to believe that he has to be the breadwinner, or a family member comes from a culture where sending money to your family of origin is expected if you are in the position to do so.

“What if I do want to work? Or what if I have another plan? Or what if I have a goal? Or what if I want to help my family financially? You don’t want to get stuck in one of these situations where you’re the only one working and sustaining your partner if it’s not what you wanted,” says Lozano-Rivera. You both need to be on the same page.

“There’s so many financial advisors out there that are men and when they’re dealing with couples, they talk to the man, and they don’t really include the woman and I’m just the opposite. I want to make sure that every party is getting their questions answered and is educated and knowledgeable.

And where those gender norms exist, there too is conflict. Sturmer says that the new norms of the modern workplace also have a part to play when we’re talking about financial expectations and gender roles. “Modern life feels quite different now. Dual income families, freelancing, zero-hours contracts, credit cards, disposable spending, consumer culture. I would imagine that this means that there is more scope for conflict over spending decisions, as our roles and incomes are constantly shifting.”


Figuring Out Your Financial Compatibility

But what about financial deal breakers when it comes to your relationship? Experts say that before you can identify your red flags, starting a conversation about money is the first step and that financial compatibility is more about communication than it is anything else. Some suggestions include:

  • Being open about how much money you have saved
  • Being open about debt
  • Finding a way to talk about any compulsive shopping, gambling, or spending behaviour you or your partner might be engaged in
  • Talking about retirement plans
  • Separate, joint, or individual and shared bank accounts
  • Discussing short and long-term financial goals
  • Discussing each other’s credit score and ability to receive a loan or a mortgage, including whether a partner has ever had to file for bankruptcy
  • Expenses and budgeting
  • How money was discussed and handled in your families of origin
  • Financial obligations to others
  • Investments and money management styles
  • Past financial mistakes


And, when discomfort around the topic inevitably arises, Sturmer says it’s vital that you take the time to figure out where that concern is coming from. Be open to understanding each other’s spending styles. And if there isn’t an unlimited pool of cash (and let’s face it, not many of us are in this situation) then figure out your financial habits and dealbreakers together. This includes what’s important to you, and what can you live without.

But when someone you’re dating has a truly incompatible or unhealthy relationship with money, it may be a reason to pause and reconsider your compatibility. This could be evident in how much debt they have, if they have shopping or gambling habits, or even if they are unwilling to talk about the subject with you.


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