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It doesn’t matter whether your bank account is robust or you’re living paycheck to paycheck: Money is one of the top reasons couples fight. Research on a sample of 4,574 couples suggests that, of all the issues married couples argue about, financial arguments are the single best predictor of divorce.

Unless you have an unlimited trust fund, work can’t be separated from the conversation. Work and the pursuit of money can be the third party in a relationship, demanding your time and energy. Balancing work and relationship is fundamental to the success of your partnership.

Still, conflicts over money don’t need to be a make-or-break issue. What matters most is how a couple talks about their financial disagreements. It’s important to remember that the conflict money creates isn’t about numbers — it’s about what money means to each of you.

Money issues are best navigated when you understand the ways your individual histories shape the conversation. What, to each of you, constitutes having enough? This date and these questions will help you increase your understanding of where the other is coming from.

Preparation: Think of three things you appreciate about your partner’s contributions to the wealth of the relationship, both paid and unpaid. Share these three things at the beginning of your date conversation.

Location: This date should cost nothing, or as little as possible. If your income has increased since you met, do something similar to when you had less money. Visit a place that makes you feel comfortable, wealthy, or rich in some way, however you define those things. If you’re staying at home, get your favorite takeout. Dress thoughtfully. Use the nice dishes.

Open-ended questions to ask your partner:

  1. What do we have that you feel grateful for?
  2. How do you feel about your professional work now?
  3. How do you imagine your work changing in the future?
  4. What is your biggest fear around money?
  5. What do you need to feel safe in a conversation about how you spend or make money?
  6. On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = never, 10 = always), how often do you think about money?
  7. How can I help you feel secure when you’re worried about money?
  8. What are your hopes and dreams about money?

(Talking about money can be hard, but sometimes we have to do it — especially if we manage finances with another person. Here are nine more expert strategies to consider in your financial discussions.)

This article originally appeared as “The Cost of Love: Work and Money” in “5 Essential Conversations for Any Couple” in the December 2020 issue of Experience Life.

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