If you’re getting married, you’re affirming your relationship with a legal union. This legality secures the bond between two people beyond whatever spiritual or emotional union they’re undertaking – it’s also joining them at the wallet.

If you’re planning on getting married, you should have a discussion about finances. If you’ve already gotten married, you need to work on the mechanics of what your household budget is going to be. The reality is that money – and the anxiety, stress, and all-out fights that can come with it – is the cause of countless breakups and divorces. But money isn’t to blame. The blame falls on the individuals who were nonchalant or dishonest about their individual financial situations that they brought to the partnership.

Marriage joins two people - and their money.

Marriage joins two people – and their money.

Build a Foundation on Full Disclosure

Virtually everyone carries either savings, debt, or some combination of the two into a relationship. You must take a full account – and tell your partner to do the same – of your credit history, your accumulated debt, and any savings you have – whether it is tangible, liquid savings or a long-term investment such as an IRA.

Although it is up to the couple whether they share accounts, maintain separate financial identities, etc., it is all but inevitable that some finances will be shared. It is up to each individual to be honest about how much slack one is willing to pick up for the other, how much one trusts the other with intertwined finances, and to what degree you want full financial immersion. This is what one has, this is what the other has – how much do you realistically want combined? You don’t have to be rich, but if you start with a foundation based on anything but honest disclosure, you are sowing the seeds for future headaches.

Two Columns

Creating a household budget, in its purest form, involves creating two columns: one for what’s coming in and another for what’s going out. It is, of course, much more complicated than that, but start by calculating your current income and then calculating everything from you electric bill to your car payment (use a car loan calculator to make sure you’re getting the best deal). Free, web-based software can help you lay out and categorize your expenses and line them up neatly against your income.

Establish Goals

Income and debt are definitive, tangible amounts. Goals are not. This is a sticking point for so many relationships because of differences in philosophy on how money should be organized, spent, and saved. One person may think it’s important to go out to dinner once a week, and the other may think that every dollar should be banked for the future. When setting future financial goals as a couple, it is imperative to compromise – give a little of what the other wants and get a little of what you want.

Take an honest accounting of what you each have and what you each owe.

Take an honest accounting of what you each have and what you each owe.

Marriage is a union between two people – and their money. Financial problems have provided the foundational cracks that led to the destruction of so many otherwise strong relationships. Be honest, be open, and be reasonable – marriages are built on love, but households run on money.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about personal finance and budgeting.

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