Buying that first home together is an exciting milestone for any young couple. But the process involves a number of big decisions – from where you’ll live to how much you’ll spend – that could have the two of you butting heads. As with most sources of conflict, communication is the best remedy. Here are some of the steps both of you can follow to make sure homeownership makes your relationship stronger.
Find the root source of conflict.
At some point or other, nearly all couples fight over financial decisions. It’s only natural that some of those disputes will center around your biggest purchase of all: a new home.
But sometimes quarrels that are ostensibly about money actually involve something deeper than that. Those battles may, in fact, be a reflection of your contrasting goals and values, says Jacquette Timmons, a finance coach and the author of Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate.
Timmons recalls one couple she recently worked with where the husband insisted on moving to the suburbs in order to cut costs. But the wife wanted to stay in the city, where the local school had a good special needs program for her child. Addressing those underlying concerns in an honest way can help reduce any friction. “It frees you up to not take their response personally,” she says.
Identify your priorities.
A lot of couples want to put their own mark on the home they buy. But making upgrades can create some serious strain. Couples have to decide, for instance, how much they’re going to spend on renovations and which projects they’re going to tackle first.
Often, those things can lead to a feud if you don’t head it off first. “You could have avoided that fight if you had come to an agreement beforehand about what you were going to focus on,” says Timmons.
Of course, the size of your home improvement budget depends on how long you want to live there. One spouse might see the house or condo as a stepping stone, while the other views it as their long-term address. For that reason, Timmons recommends that couples talk about their overall plans before taking on a big project.
Check in with each other.
There tends to be a lot of dialogue when couples are preparing to buy a home. After all, you need to figure out how you’ll pay for, where you’ll live and what you want in a home. Unfortunately, the sharing of ideas often stops when they move into their new digs.
Meanwhile, there may be conflicts boiling up below the surface. “You shouldn’t only talk about money where there’s a transaction to be made,” Timmons says. She recommends having periodic conversations to address potential sticking points before they start to fester.
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Figure how you’re dividing contributions.
Some couples completely meld their financial assets once they get married; others keep separate accounts. Couples ultimately have to figure out what works for them, says Timmons.
If you fall into the latter camp, though, it’s important to reach an agreement over who pays what for housing expenses, says Timmons. The spouses also need to talk about what conditions might lead to a change in the percentage they contribute down the road.
For couples who maintain separate accounts, Timmons says transparency is all the more important in order to maintain a sense of trust. “Spouses should still be able to see what’s going on in those other accounts,” she says.
Trade off roles.
The longer you’re married, the more likely it is that you’ll settle into certain habits. One partner, for instance, might pay the bills every month while the other handles the bulk of the housekeeping. It’s an easy way for one spouse to become detached from financial decisions, says Timmons.
One solution: periodically switching off who takes on a given role. It’s a good way to make sure both individuals stay engaged in the process and understand the financial dynamics of the household, she says.