Money, sex, and in-laws:  ask any divorce attorney about the most common reasons that couples split, and this will likely be your answer.  As to which is the most problematic, it’s hard to say.  But from my perspective, as a CFP® professional, money is involved in the majority of break-ups and is often the cause of friction in the other two areas as well.

Little wonder that the topic of money is generally not one of the sweet nothings that lovers be whispering into each other’s ears this Valentine’s Day.

But perhaps it’s time to rethink the role of money and love, and consider how the two can be partners, rather than perpetual protagonists.   

Here are seven financial ways to say “I love you”:

  1. Make a date with your sweetie to talk about money.  Many relationships are unions of money opposites.  For example, a saver and a spender, or a money vigilante paired with a money avoider.  If you’re the one who finds string theory infinitely more fascinating than personal finance, stifle those yawns and let him or her clue you in on what’s going on financially with the two of you and be appreciative of the information. 

  2. Consider opening separate accounts to use when buying your partner a gift or funding a surprise occasion or getaway.  If you share absolutely everything – even your checking account – such an account would be useful so that your partner doesn’t automatically know what was spent on the gift, and issues about “too much” or “too little” don’t get in the way.

  3. Understand that separate accounts can mean different things to different genders.  Money therapist Olivia Mellan has observed that women often like to have some money of their own as an expression of independence and autonomy.  Men, by contract, may see her separate account as an indication of distrust.  It’s important to get these different perceptions out on the table rather than avoiding the discussion altogether or keeping a separate account a secret.

  4. Make a gift to a cause that your partner cares passionately about.  This really works if you are on different sides of social or political issues.  Let’s say you lean left and your partner leans right:  give to a conservative cause in your partner’s name.  Or perhaps you’re skeptical of the effects of global warming, while your spouse blames every bout of bad weather on melting icebergs in Antarctica. As a way of acknowledging your spouse’s opinion without necessarily accepting it, make a donation to an environmental cause.

  5. Do what’s necessary to provide for your significant other in the event something happens to you.  Don’t neglect this area, even if you are young and healthy and anticipate many years together.  This means getting adequate life, disability, medical, and long term care insurance.  It also means making special estate plans for second marriages or unions, particularly if you and your spouse do not have children in common.  Make sure you are not setting up a situation where your spouse and your children will be at odds in the settlement of your estate.  Thinking ahead and planning for these contingencies is a powerful way to show that you care.

  6. Make a “what you need to know list” that your sweetheart can have in case of an emergency.  If you’re the one who handles most of the financial stuff for both of you, compile a list of all important accounts, numbers and passwords.  Keep the list up to date.

  7. If, in spite of your best intentions, you find you simply cannot talk about money with your beloved without sparks or pots and pans flying, bring your money issues to an expert on financial matters.  Choose a CFP® professional and you can safely assume that your issues will remain confidential and that the planner is committed to objectivity and to what is best for you as a couple.  It’s amazing what an impartial third party can do to clarify your issues, set common goals that you can pursue together, and find solutions that can work for you both.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.  This year, in addition to the usual candy and flowers, put your money where your heart is.  It can be one of the best ways to say “I love you.”  And if getting some objective advice with your finances will show your love, get in touch with a Certified Financial Planner(TM) professional to help bring you and all your finances together.