Creating Financial Intimacy in Relationship

by Debra Kaplan, MA, MBA, LPC, CSAT-S

Intimacy is a cornerstone of a romantic relationship. Many describe intimacy as emotional closeness or sharing of our deepest personal feelings with our partner. Others describe intimacy as physical, sexual touch and affection. Few include finances in their descriptions of intimacy; open and honest conversations that partners have about their money beliefs and behaviors.

If a romantic relationship is one of the most important emotional decisions we make in our lifetime, then it is also one of the most important financial decisions of our lives. Yet, why do so many people avoid the issue?

Talking about money isn’t romantic or sexy. The topic stirs up difficult emotions for many people, which is one of many reasons why discussions about money are conspicuously absent in new relationships or even after a couple marry or move in together. Take, for example, the wildly successful Netflix reality series, Love Is Blind. The televised series is based on a social experiment where single men and women who are looking for love, date — and accept a marriage proposal — all before they will meet in person. If the premise sounds implausible, you’d be surprised. I was!

Beginning in 2022, when I began writing Coupleship Inc: From Financial Conflict to Financial Intimacy, several people enthusiastically suggested that I watch Love Is Blind. I ignored them and avoided the series until it became, well, unavoidable. In early 2023, the series was abuzz in the social media zeitgeist.

The therapist in me was captivated with the notion that two people date and will potentially marry “from the blind.” In a tightly scripted series, each dater talks to the other from their separate “pods.” They cannot see their date, only hear them. Naturally, the viewer voyeurs into each couple’s conversations and budding relationship as they progress. A couple will first meet face to face only after a marriage proposal is accepted.

So, what does Love is Blind have to do with creating healthy financial intimacy? A lot! Entertainment notwithstanding, the majority of the couples’ (televised) conversations steered clear of money conversations; debt, spending, or savings. The rare exception (no spoilers here) was with one couple when the woman openly shared her concerns with her fiancé about his spending. To their mutual (televised) credit, they hesitantly discussed the issue, rather than avoid the financial elephant in the room. Kudos to this couple!

Respecting each partner’s privacy and autonomy is important, but financial intimacy is created by daring to have open and honest conversations regarding money and shared financial goals. Being able to distinguish between what is a secret and what is private becomes complicated for many couples and even more so for those in non-traditional families or second marriages.

I’ve worked with many couples who believed that avoiding a conversation would protect their partner from hurt feelings. In reality, avoiding a discussion about hidden financial information became a much more significant issue after a discovery. Unintentional or not (depending on the motivation and intent of the secret), secret keeping creates the potential for anger, hurt, fear, confusion, and shame because trust has been broken or exploited. Consider that discovering a secret can be more destructive when it ignites unresolved trauma and related financial fears, such as: “What else don’t I know?” or “What else are they keeping from me?”

Research has shown that keeping financial secrets within a marriage adversely affects three out of four relationships. A poll conducted in 2022 by reported that 32% of respondents who were in serious relationships spent more than their partner knew, held secret debt (9%), or kept a secret credit card, checking account, or savings account (9%, 8%, and 8%, respectively).

Financial intimacy requires open and honest communication regardless of the stage of the relationship. If transparent discussions about money have been avoided, in most cases, it is not too late to move from financial conflict or avoidance to financial intimacy. Applying skills for constructive conversation will take time and practice. These conversations may require the help of a professional. Remember that creating financial intimacy requires courage and compassion for yourself and each other. Together, you can build a stronger, more intimate “Coupleship Inc.”