Ongoing conflicts over money are often a warning sign that a marriage is in serious trouble, according to experts interviewed by the personal finance site GOBankingRates. Unfortunately, many of us have money habits that can undermine not only our own personal financial security but also our closest relationships–especially if we’re married.
Marriage takes a lot more than romantic Valentine’s cards and walks on the beach. It’s not only a matter of love but of keeping a home and building a family, meeting commitments and obligations, keeping yourself and your loved ones safe and empowering them to reach for the things they want in life. While you don’t need to be rich to do any of those things, you do need a consistent and logical approach to your finances, and you and your partner need to at least basically agree about priorities and needs.
When that doesn’t happen over time, it can threaten the survival of your marriage. GOBankingRates has identified six ways that money can derail a romantic partnership. You can find the full list here. Here are three of the most dangerous:
1. You and your spouse never talk about money.
Fighting over money is a bad sign, but it’s also a bad sign if you never discuss it at all. And yet, this happens in a lot of couples, according to GOBankingRates, because many of us were raised in homes where the subject was taboo.
In a 2015 survey, 35 percent of married couples said money was the leading cause of stress in their relationship. So there’s a good chance that–even if you’re not discussing it–either you or your spouse is concerned or upset about financial matters.
If that describes you, don’t dive in and try to get it all out in the open, marriage counselor Melissa Divaris Thompson told GOBankingRates. Instead, start slow with some limited conversations about financial matters. If you keep at it, she says, talking about money with your spouse will get easier over time.
Another option is to sit down together as a couple with a financial planner. He or she can help you figure out your financial goals and whether you’re in agreement about what those should be. A good financial planner will also guide your conversation, keeping disagreements from turning into sniping matches.
2. One or both of you is spending in secret.
In a different survey, 1 out of every 5 respondents admitted to making a credit card purchase of $500 or more without telling their spouse. And more than 7 million Americans have a credit card or bank account their spouse or partner doesn’t know about.
Secret spending is bad news for any marriage. If you suspect your spouse is spending without telling you, or lying to you about money, don’t just ignore it. Confront your partner about it, but try to do it in a non-combative way that might allow the two of you to discuss the issue without devolving into a full-blown argument. Consider getting help from a couples counselor or other third party if the two of you can’t discuss the matter calmly.
If you yourself are spending without telling your spouse–now’s the time to stop. Ask yourself why you feel the need to spend in secret, and if there are underlying issues you and your spouse need to address.
3. You’re living beyond your means.
A GOBankingRates poll showed that overspending was the number one financial dealbreaker in relationships, even more than not earning enough. And yet, in our debt-ridden society where we’re offered credit with almost every transaction we make, overspending is distressingly common.
That’s bad, though, because when we live beyond our means, we face constant anxiety about paying our bills, and that anxiety will directly affect our mood, our relationships, and how we treat the people closest to us.
The good news is that if both spouses recognize overspending as a problem, then the two of you can tackle that problem together. So if you think that either or both of you is spending too much, bring up the subject with your partner, and then find ways to address that issue. That might involve setting up a budget, doing some financial planning, creating automatic deductions that move part of your paycheck into a separate account for safekeeping, taking a personal finance course together, or other possible solutions. Just talking about a subject like overspending can help preserve your relationship, Divaris Thompson says. That’s why talking your financial problems is always the best place to start.
This original article was written by Minda Zetlin for INC.com