Jean Chatzky
Money can be one of the most contentious issues in relationships. At best, it can mean returning those designer shoes you just splurged on. At worst, money woes can lead to divorce. Jean talks to Olivia Mellan, a therapist who specializes in helping couples solve their money problems. That's right—there are solutions, Olivia says, and they hinge on open communication and meeting a couple's wants and needs. "People work it out in all kinds of creative ways," she says. Olivia shares with Jean some ways that couples can find common ground with their finances.

  • Begin to have regular money talks. Whether you've been married 30 years or are just starting to plan on moving in together, Olivia says the first money talk you have should be when you're not stressed and are both fairly relaxed. Sit down with your partner and share what money was like in your family growing up, what money messages you may have inherited and what your money personality may be, Olivia says. Also share money secrets, including any debt or student loans you may have.
  • Never merge all your money. Olivia says this is especially important for women in order to retain a sense of self. "Women who tend to over-give and over-merge and lose themselves in relationships need to have a healthy sense of autonomy in the midst of intimacy," she says.
  • Work out a system for joint expenses. Olivia recommends that each partner make their own list of what they think should be joint expenses, joint savings, joint emergency funds, etc. Then, merge the lists, make contributions to the joint accounts proportional to your income, and keep the rest separate. "You always have some merged money and some separate money," Olivia says.
  • Know when to seek outside help. Olivia says to look to an expert when you can't talk to your partner about money, you're losing sleep over it or when you start hiding things from your partner. "Couples know when they're in distress and when they need help because they feel overwhelmed … they feel hopeless," she says.
  • Consider a prenuptial agreement. Know that there's no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to prenuptial agreements, Olivia says. "I'm not at all opposed to it, nor am I a big proponent," she says. "I think if anybody wants it, they should definitely explore having it."