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Phoenix Forward

5 tips to avoid money problems in your relationship

Crumpled money.

Relationships fall apart for many reasons: infidelity, incompatibility, irreconcilable differences. But therapists say one of the main reasons couples struggle — besides parenting and sex (or lack thereof) — is because they don't know how to handle money.

"If not managed openly and effectively, 'money issues' are a major contributor to relationship failure," says Marilynn Irvine, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and area chair in the graduate-level counseling program at the University of Phoenix Sacramento Valley Campus.

Once they've tied the knot, couples often realize they have different views on how to spend, how to save or how to meld their finances. Here are five tips on how to avoid problems with money before — and after — the wedding day:

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Before you say 'I do,' communicate.

Money issues surface mostly because couples do not communicate about how to handle their finances. "Many people will marry and never have a conversation about money," says Leslie Baker, a marriage and family therapist in Pleasanton, Calif., and lead area chair for the masters in counseling program at the University of Phoenix Bay Area - San Francisco Campus. It's important to make sure your goals are in sync, she says, adding that she also believes some couples should consider signing prenuptial agreements.

"When you marry, there is in each state a presumption that you will share your assets," Baker says. "If you don't want to do that, you need to contact an attorney pre-maritally." Couples who have married a second or third time and already own property may especially want to consider prenups, she advises.

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Understand the meaning behind your differences.

Baker says family upbringings determine how people view money. If a husband came from a family that didn't have much money, he may view travel as "frivolous," she says. "Whereas in the wife's family, going on trips was the only time their family had peace and enjoyment." By understanding these differences, you can set priorities together.

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Be responsible.

"If you are not yet generating the income to fund the lifestyle to which you would like to be accustomed, develop your strategies for expanding your income-producing options — before you start spending money you don't have," Irvine says.

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Don't keep secrets.

Once married, finances should be an open book, and you should share information about where bills are stored and set a regular time to talk with your partner about finances. "Falling into patterns of spending and hiding creates disruption of trust and self-worth issues that further erode all other aspects of the relationship," Irvine says.

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Learn how to negotiate kindly.

Baker says marriage is a partnership and a business, so couples need to avoid becoming emotional when conflicts arise over finances. "Money is just money," she says. "You can't take it with you when you die, but you will take the memories of how you spent your time together — and you don't want to spend it arguing." If you need extra help, she suggests couples' counseling to help you navigate your future together.

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