Hello I'm Kelley Keehn. Study after study has shown that money is the number one reason couples argue and some couples argue about it a lot.

The good news is that a study by the Financial Planning Standards Council found that when couples talk about their finances, they argue less. But simply talking about finances isn't enough. Couples need to know how to talk about money and need a strategy for spending and saving. Joining me this afternoon is Moira Somers a psychologist who specializes in money issues and who can help you and your spouse get on the same page about your household finances. Welcome, Dr. Somers.

Dr. Moira Somers: Thank you, Kelley.

So marriage and money. Tell us what we need to know.

Dr. Moira Somers:  The most important thing to realize Kelley is that marriage can be an economic powerhouse. In fact, a solid, vital marriage is probably one of the biggest predictors of financial security and well-being throughout the lifespan. So it’s important to keep it vital and it’s important to have the money conversations that sustain it.

Now before a person even thinks about getting married or moving in with someone else, what advice do you have for them to think about?

Dr. Moira Somers: Dating is a really good opportunity to learn about each other’s financial habits and proclivities, and to begin to work out the differences, to notice the differences and to see them. Dating can be a little bit like the dance of the seven veils as you see each other in different contexts. I always recommend that couples do a few things before they get married. They need to spend a weekend with each other’s families and they need to wallpaper or tile a floor together or build IKEA furniture, and they need to show each other their financials. They need to get financially naked. They need to look at each other’s bank statements and credit card statements, look at each other’s credit scores. And that may sound decidedly unromantic but the fact is that when you get married, you are seen as one entity under the law in many many circumstances. So it’s important to know what your joint worth is and what kinds of issues that you have to work out. What are your strengths and what are the things you’ll need to work on.

Why is it so hard for couples to talk about money?

Dr. Moira Somers: Speaking as a neuropsychologist, I can tell you that those discussions aren’t all happening from the very rational front cortical structures in our brain. Money history, money lessons are very deep within the emotional centres and those emotions get provoked easily and sometimes unexpectedly. So it’s important that we stay tender with one another and that we cut each other a little slack sometimes as we try and develop the skills of having better money conversation.

And on that note, if couples haven’t had the conversation or are having a tough time, what tips could you offer to make that conversation a bit easier?

Dr. Moira Somers:  From the beginning, I recommend that you really notice what you do well and what the other person does well, and build on that. Complement each other on it. Appreciate them audibly about what it is that they do for the family and for the family finances that really matter to you and that make a difference. Getting down to really basic fundamentals, especially when you’re first living with each other, it can help to go to a cash system – to use the envelope system and to experiment with how much does it cost us to eat, and what do we want to do with that entertainment budget. Do we want to eat out or do we want to save up for some bigger splurges like a holiday? It’s important to get really knowledgeable about the cost of your life and to be clear about how money flows in and out of it so that you can start directing it in a purposeful and united manner.

In your experience and research, what are some of the things that couples are doing successfully to stay on the same page with money?

Dr. Moira Somers: I learned a long time ago that one of the best predictors of successful marriages is the condition where both parties have this really strong commitment to helping their partner achieve what he or she wants to achieve in life. So when you begin with that end in mind, that this isn’t a competition over where the funds will go but a way of really buoying us up and making sure that we both get what we want in life, it just changes the tone of the conversation altogether.

Thank you. Dr. Somers. A CFP® professional can provide a lot of sensible advice and also serve as a neutral sounding board and referee. You can find one near you at findyourplanner.ca.

For more on couples and their finances, read Breaking Up is Hard to Do and 4 Tips for Financial Harmony as a Couple.