Relationship blogger Nora Nur is an educator, entrepreneur, and personal friend. A few months ago, she published a piece titled, “Money, How Much Does It Matter in a Relationship?”
In her post, men and women of different ages and backgrounds shared their perspectives on love, money, and relationships. They talked about the ways money impacted their dating preferences—and, later, their marriages.
Stop for a second and read it, and then come right back. You have to come right back though!
Okay, did you read it?
Great. Let’s chat for a few minutes.
We all have different values and different expectations about how much money we need to survive, thrive, and live our best life.
There’s no doubt that money matters in a relationship, even if you don’t actually care about money. The question is how much does it matter?
Does money matter more in domestic partnerships than in non-domestic unions? Does money matter more for couples who have children than for those who don’t?
It’s an important question, but it doesn’t give the full picture. (Sorry Nora!).
Here are 11 money management keys that (potentially) matter more than how much your partner makes for a living.
ONE: Their family’s attitude towards work. More specifically, their family’s attitude towards earning and acquiring money. Even more specifically, their family’s bias towards certain kinds of work.
What is work? We don’t all feel the same about it. Not all of us even agree on what work actually is.
Some of us think “work” refers only to our professional obligations. If we’re not at work, we’re not actually working. By extension, work is any task we must complete as part of our responsibilities while on the job.
Others of us believe that “work” is anything we don’t want to do, anything that’s hard for us to do, or anything we’re required to do over and over and over again regardless of our mood, temperament, or how we’re feeling.
Some of us see “work” as part of a balanced breakfast. We must eat in order to live.
Others think “work” is just someone else’s problem. They’re much too sophisticated for that.
If your partner comes from a family where he or she was always taken care of, does he value work now?
If your partner comes from a family where he or she was always been responsible for financially supporting siblings, parents, and other family members, how does she feel about work now?
When I was growing up, my family had a bias towards hard work. All work wasn’t created equal. If you worked in an office or had a “desk” job, you didn’t work as hard as those who worked out in the field. You didn’t work as hard as construction workers, laborers, carpenters, etc.—anyone who had to extend real blood, sweat, and tears to perform their daily tasks.
Physical labor was real work. Everything else was cake.
I cut yards on the side with my father during some weekends and had to help friends and family move from their houses or apartments. We were the yard keepers and the moving crew.
My parents wanted to set the foundation that
- Everyone had a job to do
- Work was inherently important
- The more education you got the “easier” your life would be because you could pursue less strenuous, less physically demanding, fake work
No one ever used the words, but it was clear to me. There was white collar work. There was blue collar work. You needed to understand—and be willing and able to perform—both, but one was more desirable than the other.
And one was more real.
You should know how your partner’s family feels about work, their bias towards different kinds of work, and their attitudes towards earning and acquiring money.
Ultimately, these things can help steer your partner towards or away from certain educational achievements, towards or away from certain career aspirations, and towards or away from certain entrepreneurial goals.
It can provide a window into their philosophy on what’s needed to maintain a home and whether or not it’s appropriate (or right) to beg, borrow, cheat, or steal.
Mark my words.
Find out how their family feels about work.
TWO: How they feel about their family’s attitudes towards work.
Although it’s not the case for everyone, I think our attitudes towards our family’s attitudes can predict our work ethic and, later, our professional success.
We learn from our parents when we should work (All the time? Only 9 to 5? Only when it’s convenient? Never?).
We also learn who should work (Men only? Women—but only in the home? Never children?). And we learn why we should work.
Find out how they feel about their family’s stance on work.
THREE: Their actual work ethic, as it relates to making money.
How I feel about work and how much work I actually do are not the least bit the same.
(At least, not in my professional life. In my personal life, they’re exactly the same, unfortunately.)
Philosophically, I don’t care very much about work. I’m lazy. If I could read books, drink tea, write, play volleyball, and watch Netflix everyday—AND DO NOTHING ELSE— for the rest of my life, I would.
Seriously, I wouldn’t do ANYTHING else. I wouldn’t lift a finger. Mmmmmm… tea…
But in my real life I have one full-time job, two part-time jobs, and I write for two blogs. I also recently started an online MBA program, and I’m currently working on a series of children’s books—one set of traditional books and the other set = a financial literacy series for kids.
I don’t say this to sound cocky or impressive. (Do I sound impressive?). My point is that how I feel about work has nothing to do with how much work I actually do.
What’s your partner’s work ethic, as it relates to earning money?
FOUR: Their childhood experiences with money.
There’s a quote I love by James Baldwin that says, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” I like to think of it as a question and a call to arms.
Are we trapped in history, or is history trapped in us?
Most of us interact with money in the ways we learned from our parents—at least that’s what we do early on. As we get older, we either decide that what we learned was sufficient, or we decide that it was woefully insufficient.
Our childhood experiences with money can shape our professional life—for better or for worse.
Find out how your partner feels about money.
FIVE: How they feel about their family’s attitudes towards money.
See number four.
SIX: How they feel about education, schooling, and life-long learning.
Things change fast. They change in subtle and in equally significant ways. In order to keep up with these changes, we need to constantly learn more and more tangible, marketable skills. Those of us who reject learning and education can grow stagnant. Those of us who acquire more education may fare better—statistically speaking—in the long haul.
How does your partner feel about education, schooling, and life-long learning? Do they believe education is reserved only for K-12 experiences or only for the childhood classroom? Or do they believe learning happens everywhere, at any time?
SEVEN: What do they do for a living?
I know, I know, I know! Hear me out first.
If you care about living a certain lifestyle or earning a certain salary, some professions will be more attractive than others.
If you want a large family, or you want a modest one with expensive trappings, you’ll want a partner who can match and/or support your current lifestyle.
What your partner does for a living—i.e. their career field—can help determine if you’ll be able to make ends meet or whether you’ll need to secure additional jobs.
Some career fields provide more opportunity for growth than others, and some require advanced degrees and specialized skills.
What your partner does for a living is relevant if his or her profession won’t help either of you achieve your long-term financial goals.
From a practical standpoint, it’s also relevant because it can indicate his/her employability– her ability to secure future employment based on her transferable skills and expertise.
EIGHT: Their credit score and their credit history.
You knew I had to get there eventually, right?
Listen, everyone has a personal finance story. A low credit score doesn’t have to mean anything, and it’s definitely not always the full picture.
But your credit score is not without consequence. It can affect your ability to secure an apartment or buy a home. The rate on your home. Your ability to secure funding to pay for school or to support your new business. The interest rate on whatever funding you secure. The list goes on.
I know wealthy people who burn money like cigarettes. They earn my annual salary times three, and they spend four times that.
They’re living their best life, for sure.
But they’re always broke, and they always have trouble finding a place to stay. Even though they’re rich.
What does your partner’s credit score tell you about their spending history, borrowing history, and level of responsibility?
NINE: How generous they are.
Is there such a thing as being too generous? I’m going to be a bit controversial here and say yes.
A few years ago I knew a woman who was on the verge of leaving her husband. She loved him deeply, but she was constantly stressed about their financial situation. To make matters worse, he was kind-hearted and giving.
He was too giving. He was always giving their money away.
He donated constantly to food shelters and community centers—even though they, themselves, couldn’t always pay their own rent. He gave money to his students at the school where he taught when they couldn’t afford lunch or bus fare.
Whenever she needed it, he even paid his mother’s rent. “Things will work out,” he’d say. They need it more than we do.
His wife wanted to be supportive; his generosity was one of the things she loved about him the most, but she felt torn. They weren’t making ends meet and his behavior, however chivalrous, was making it worse.
Generosity is important. Necessary. Human.
But is there such a thing as being too generous? (Obviously you can be not generous enough).
TEN: What are their addictions?
Wellness and mental health are critically important.
I don’t think we offer enough support for those overcoming addiction. And I’m not sure that we always value our mental health as much as our physical health. Learning more about addiction isn’t just necessary, it’s essential for us to know the ways we can support—or enable—our partner. It’s important to know in what ways addiction could affect our livelihood, especially in domestic unions.
ELEVEN: Do they have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?
You may have recently heard someone use the term growth or fixed mindset. It’s referenced most often in the education field, but it’s applicable to all areas of our lives.
If you have a growth mindset, you believe that intelligence can be developed. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that there’s very little you can do to increase your intelligence. Talent is inherited, for example. If you don’t inherit certain skills, you won’t ever be able to attain them. Effort is irrelevant.
They’re meant to determine our attitudes towards failure, learning, and growth.
Does your partner have a growth or fixed mindset? How will this manifest in your relationship and in your life?
In love and in marriage, so many things can matter more than money: communication, loyalty, intimacy, commitment, shared values, faith. We don’t build a life with dollars and sense, we build a life with people.
If we focus only on how much our partner makes, or we use income to select and weed out potential dating partners, we can miss out on the best of what they have to offer. We can miss out on the life we could’ve had.
However, money—and constant arguments about money—have been ruining marriages and unions since the beginning of time.
It’s one of the leading causes of divorce and one of the leading causes of stress in all romantic relationships.
Regardless of whether or not you personally care about money, money matters in relationships.
If you hope to determine whether a potential mate is financially compatible for the long haul, income doesn’t provide the complete picture. Consider these 11 key points as helpful indicators.