by Jennifer Leighton

It’s no secret that financial issues are a leading cause of unhappiness in relationships. A 2012 study of 4,500 couples titled “Examining the Relationship between Financial Issues and Divorce” found that arguing about money early on in a marriage is the greatest predictor of divorce.  The study further concluded that conflicts over money are often more intense and longer-lasting than arguments about other issues.

Financial discord is cited as the reason for divorce in 22% of marriages which end. However, this number may actually be higher.  Most family law attorneys will tell you that financial issues – and the inability to communicate effectively about them – are present in many of their cases.  Lisa Zonder, a prominent family law attorney in Westlake Village and founder of Zonder Family Law, says, “We often see clients who have different relationships with money and different perspectives on how to spend or save.”

It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. When it comes to love and money, there are certain steps every couple can take to protect – and improve – their relationship.  Here are a few of them.

Communication Is Key

Talking to your spouse about money, especially early on in the relationship, is critical to your financial well-being. Be honest about not just your assets and debts, but also on your view of spending and saving.  And while you are sharing, be careful not to judge the other.  Instead, seek to understand where your partner is coming from and why they hold the opinions they do.

“As a divorce lawyer, I have observed that clients who talk more than they listen, accuse the other, or take rigid positions escalate the conflict,” warns Zonder.

Yours, Mine and Ours

The idea that all money must be shared once you are married is an increasingly antiquated convention. Contrary to former belief, couples with the highest amount of financial harmony in their relationships keep – at least some of – their money separate.   Having individual checking accounts, for example, allows each partner a degree of independence and financial autonomy.

A couple I’ll call Johanna and Anthony are a prime illustration. Johanna, who works in financial services, and Anthony, a small business owner, keep several accounts.  Out of their larger, joint account they pay for their day-to-day “overhead,” such as the mortgage, utilities, and groceries.  However, they each maintain smaller, separate accounts for their discretionary spending.

“Anthony has a hobby of fixing up old cars and I spend my extra money on my hair and nails,” says Johanna. “Our separate accounts allow us to enjoy the things we like without having to ask permission or explain our purchases.”

The Couple Who Budgets Together, Stays Together

It doesn’t matter if you are living paycheck-to-paycheck or if you are rolling in the discretionary income, a budget is an important tool for every household to have. Going through your monthly income and expenses together not only creates a financial foundation, but it can also help to enhance your communication skills, as well.  Coming together to create a plan is actually a bonding experience!

While you’re crunching the numbers, it’s also a good idea to establish a pre-approved spending limit. In other words, what is the dollar amount each of you can spend without having to run it by your partner?

“We set this number at $500,” says Johanna, “but it’s really up to each couple, and their particular financial situation, to determine what they are comfortable with.”

Create Goals as a Couple

What are the financial milestones you and your partner want to achieve? By articulating your goals and creating a plan to achieve them, you stand an increased chance of making your dreams a reality.  And yet, so few couples do this.  In fact, only 38% of couples actively plan for retirement together.

Make a list of your long-term goals, such as retirement or funding your children’s college education, as well as the things you want to accomplish in the shorter-term, such as buying a new home or taking that European vacation. Once you’ve done this, identify the actions each of you need to take in order to accomplish your list.  By working together – while taking some individual responsibility – you’ll go a long way in creating a financially-healthy relationship.

This article originally appeared in Westlake Malibu Lifestyle Magazine.

MFI Staff-JennJennifer C. Leighton, JD, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ is a Senior Analyst at Manchester Financial, an Investment Counsel/Wealth Management firm located in Westlake Village. She specializes in helping divorcing and divorced individuals achieve financial peace of mind and she is passionate about educating and empowering women to take control of their financial lives.  Jennifer is a published book author and her article, “7 Financial Tips for Women Facing Divorce,” was recently published on The Huffington Post. For more information call 800-492-1107.

This material is provided for general and educational purposes only, and is not legal, tax or investment advice. For each strategy or option mentioned, there are detailed tax rules that must be followed.