4 Ways for Couples to Reach Financial Harmony

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Romantic partners rarely relish talking about money, but if you want a lasting relationship, you need to explore your financial compatibility, says Paul Nourigat, a senior wealth strategist, relationship coach and author of "No Time to Wander: The Financial Compass for Young Americans."

We talked to Nourigat about creating harmony in your relationship and tips for keeping money fights to a minimum, even if you have different ideas about finances to begin with. "The need for financial harmony applies not only across all age groups, but also across the wealth spectrum," he says. "When it comes to creating a long-lasting relationship, you need to make sure you've got financial harmony."

An important element is to keep expectations in check. Expecting perfection from your partner is not the goal, Nourigat tells couples that he advises. Instead, understand that behavior such as overspending can take some time to change. However, anything one partner sees as nonnegotiable -- such as the desire to buy a home or have college funds in place for kids within a particular time -- should be discussed in advance of getting married. Nourigat's approach requires a four-step process.

4 Steps Toward Financial Harmony

1. Honesty. "It's hard to move forward in a relationship without honesty," says Nourigat. "I've advised young couples and elderly couples who range from complete transparency to those who hide their financial affairs from their partners. I've found that's it's ineffective and unhealthy to hide anything."

For example, Nourigat says one husband was anxious about the money his wife was spending on clothing, but she had a bad impression of the money he spent on cars. "Neither one was wrong. They just had to have an open conversation and come to an agreement on how they would handle spending," he says. "Many couples segregate their financial affairs, and as long as they're honest about that, that's fine, too."

2. Dialogue. Nourigat acknowledges that most people are insecure about money and uncomfortable talking about it, so it's important to build and maintain an ongoing dialogue with your partner and not be intimidated by the subject or by your partner's attitude toward money.

"The healthiest financial relationships I've seen involved couples who had an open two-way discussion, and, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%as a result, they could work through uncomfortable and difficult times," he says. "If one partner isn't interested in a dialogue about money, the early engagement of a professional adviser, financial planner, or accountant can help."

3. Alignment. The result of a healthy dialogue should be defining and agreeing on big-picture objectives and priorities, says Nourigat.

"I recommend creating a one-page life plan with the top three things you want to accomplish," he says. "It's too easy to get caught up in other people's problems and to avoid trying to understand your partner and to reach an agreement on shared plans." A plan on paper gives you both something to refer to that shows where you, as a couple, have common goals and aspirations.

4. Planning. Often one partner is stronger than the other when it comes to financial matters, but both partners need to have a role and discuss the plans that will lead to accomplishing the couple's objectives, says Nourigat.

The planning stage should be practical and focused on a savings plan and how to spend money. "If you want to retire by a certain age that's a mathematical issue that will drive every other decision," he says. "If it's a priority to go to Europe every year or to drive a particular type of car, then you need to figure out where you won't spend money in order to achieve your goals."

Review and Revise

Nourigat says every couple needs to have a periodic assessment of their plans and go through the steps again of honesty, dialogue, alignment and planning to continue their financial harmony.

"Young couples have time to make modifications in their financial behavior. But even for older couples, it's important to communicate about money to reduce angst," says Nourigat. "You need to be proactive because the trickle-down effect of financial angst can be significant. Becoming more financially compatible up front reduces discord in the future."

Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer.

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