Romance equals intimacy, and for many, that includes our finances. Examples of financial intimacy include signing on an apartment lease, opening joint bank or credit accounts, extending loans; paying bills or making other financial gifts; and sharing ATM pass words, bank account numbers and other financial information.
We make some of our most damaging money decisions because we mistakenly think (with plenty of social endorsement from family, church and popular culture) that when it comes to love, it’s okay, and even necessary, to dismiss the rules and realities of protecting our financial health and security.
However, getting intimately involved with anyone without a clear understanding of his or her financial beliefs, health and habits is an open invitation to conflict and disaster, no matter how strong your feelings for each other. Commingling your finances without knowing one another’s financial histories is like having unprotected sex without knowing one another’s HIV status. And the consequences can be just as devastating.
Many people are surprised to learn that the longest chapter of our book, with my wife and business partner Zara D. Green, Loving In The Grown Zone: A No-Nonsense Guide to Making Healthy Decisions in the Quest for Loving, Romantic Relationships of Honor, Esteem, and Respect (Balboa Press), focuses on what’s at stake when financial decisions are influenced by our feelings in romantic relationships. That’s because the financial consequences of an unhealthy, toxic relationship are both considerable and measurable. For example, the cost of a single failed marriage cycle–from engagement through divorce–routinely exceeds $100,000–and much more for mid-to-senior-level corporate executives, pro athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and other high net worth/income individuals. (I encourage you to download my complimentary e-book, Buy Love, Get Trouble; Sell Love, Get Screwed, in which I am transparent about how costly this reality was for me personally.)
It’s important to understand that sex, romance, marriage and procreation are pathways to clear, unfettered and often permanent access to your financial resources—including by criminals. Consider this: Romance scams were ranked the the No. 1 form of financial fraud in 2018—to the tune of $143 million—and that’s only what is reported. The majority of such fraud goes unreported by victims who are too embarrassed to admit they were defrauded or blame themselves for being taken advantage of—or who don’t even realize or recognize they were scammed.
No matter how caught up you are in the throes of romance, protecting your money is your responsibility. Neglect it at your own peril. Here are seven safety checks you can do before engaging in financial intimacy (actually, any form of intimacy) with a love interest:
Have you been in an exclusive, committed, and drama-free relationship with your partner for at least a year? If not, don’t commingle your finances or make joint financial commitments like co-signing on an apartment lease or car loan. “Complicated” and off-and-on “situation-ships” don’t count, no matter how long ago they began.
Also, never, ever give money or perform other financial favors in any online relationship, or with anyone you haven’t met in person—no matter what (including “life or death emergencies” and “can’t-miss business opportunities”). Learn more about avoiding romance scams.
Be intentional about learning your love interest’s financial habits.
“One of the key questions you want to answer is whether your love interest is a safe financial partner or a potential adult dependent,” Zara says. “If the latter, meaning they habitually depend on others to finance their desired lifestyle, engaging in financial intimacy is a bad move.”
Don’t go by assumptions or what you are told, but what you can learn by observation. How does she get income to support herself? Does he abuse credit cards, or use them sparingly? Does she honor her financial commitments, or routinely bounce checks? Is he financing an addiction, or other activity he’d rather you not know about? You each have a right to your secrets. However, once you combine your money, your finances will be affected by your honey’s financial habits and vice versa.
If you are not sure (especially after a year or more) about a person’s financial habits, or that person resists or resents your efforts to learn how they handle money, do not mix your finances.
For a true reality check of how well you know your love interest, check out 6 Things You Should Know Before Opening Your Legs, Checkbook, Heart or Home.
Have regular, on-purpose, conversations about money.
Can you even talk about money with this person? Doing so at least once or twice a month should be routine before even thinking about engaging in financial intimacy.
Until you can have open, safe, and honest discussions about your financial beliefs, philosophies, fears, habits, and goals, it is unsafe for you to be financially intimate. That goes double if you can’t talk about money without one or both of you feeling judged or attacked, or becoming angry or resentful.
Invite your love interest to read books about money—together.
Reading books together can be an easier, less anxiety-producing way to ensure that money conversations happen. Here are two great recommendations:
4 Financial Languages: The Secrets To Communicating About Money by Tarra Jackson. As Jackson’s “money mentor,” I wrote the foreword to this excellent book about understanding the different styles of communication when it comes to money, including scripts to help you speak and understand each other’s money language.
I Can’t Afford To Marry You: A Guide To Understanding The True Cost of Love by Marilyn Logan. This book is a powerful look at what happens when the then-fiancée of the author called off their marriage one month before their wedding date—placing her on a path to learning serious lessons about money management and financial responsibility in a committed relationship.
Get financially naked.
If either or both of you are unwilling to reveal your complete financial histories and details of your current financial situations–including credit reports and scores, outstanding loans and debts, credit cards, child support obligations, and bankruptcies–do not engage in any form of financial intimacy.
Meet with a financial planner.
If you view yours as a serious relationship (meaning you are considering cohabitation, procreation and/or marriage), I strongly suggest that you both go together to meet with a professional financial advisor. Meeting with a financial professional puts to the test your ability to not just talk about finances, but to actually work in partnership with your financial planning.
Any resistance to or refusal of this idea is a sign that you should not only avoid engaging in financial intimacy, but seriously consider ending the relationship before you do serious damage to each other. (You’d be surprised how often a good financial planner can predict the failure of a relationship after just one or two meetings.) Again, if you can’t even talk openly and honestly about money, you very likely have no future together—or at least, not the future you want.
Never assume that you can love anyone into changing their financial habits.
The object of your affection may seem perfect for you–the person of your dreams—except for the way he or she handles money. No matter how strong your feelings are for one another, your love will not cure a person of a shopping addiction or abusing credit cards, or make that person change the unhealthy financial behaviors that destroy both relationships and finances. A person who is not financially responsible will not miraculously become trustworthy and fiscally prudent because you fell in love. Nor can you force (“love”, seduce, bribe, threaten, guilt, shame) anyone into adopting your financial values, priorities, and goals.
You may be able to work together to seek help to deal with money issues, but a person can only change their financial habits for himself or herself, not to please you or just to keep a relationship going. Protecting your financial health as you make decisions in pursuit of love, sex and relationships (in whatever order) requires you to see people as they are, not as you wish them to be, and operate accordingly. Alarm bells should go off if you or anyone you are interested in cannot pass—or worse, refuse to agree to—the above safety checks.
If a person is not healthy for you financially, chances are high that he or she is an unhealthy choice for any kind of intimacy (including sexual and emotional) in a relationship. Grown decision-making will often mean bypassing or ending relationships with those who do not pass the above safety checks, in order to remain open and available to relationship candidates who are healthy and safe for you in every way—including financially. That’s our standard in the Grown Zone.
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