You know that side-eye, raised-eyebrow look that says with some incredulity, “Who are you?”

Well, after the release of Fidelity’s biennial survey, “Fidelity Investments®’ 2015 Couples Retirement Study,” I bet a lot of couples are looking at their mates a bit askance.

According to their survey of 1,000 married partners and people in long-term committed relationships, 43% of these folks had no idea what their partner earned. And for those who claimed to know, it turns out they were approximately off by $25,000.

That means 4 in 10 couples have no idea about, what seems to me, to be a financial basic. Yet, they live together!!! Talk about sleeping with a financial stranger.

Does this describe your household?

If you live together; if you share other vital aspects of your lives together; if you, presumably, do some sort of tax planning together, and you don’t know your household’s total income, what else don’t you know?

Are there purchases about which you don’t know?

Are you in the dark about debts?

Is there an account or asset that you don’t even know exists?

And how might what you don’t know impact your financial foundation and security? Or, trust?

Talking, But Not Saying Much

Fidelity’s survey led to a flurry of articles and news reports with many saying that couples don’t talk about money. As you may know, I disagree. I think people talk about money all the time; they’re just not having the right conversations.

Whether in my former role as a money manager or my current role as a financial coach, what I have noticed is that most people rate themselves as good communicators. I bet you do, too; we all do! Unfortunately, I bet you also confuse transactional conversations about the mechanics of money with having transparent, open and honest discussions about what you have, what you do with what you have and why.

Discerning the difference is difficult if you conflate talking with revealing. But…

[Tweet “Talking about replacing the washing machine is not the same as revealing a financial desire or financial secret.”]

One of the core messages of my book, “Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate,” is how money is an unlikely and under-utilized communication tool. Like all tools, though, the instrument matters less than the result you get from using it. With money, it can foster a deeper sense of awareness that extends far beyond the dollars and cents about yourself, your mate and what is and isn’t working in your relationship.

But you have to push through the awkwardness and ask the uncomfortable questions and share the embarrassing answers.

You have to push pass the judgment and separate your moments of success and failure with money from your identity as a person.

You have to push pass the resistance that prompts you to keep things close to the vest, as the saying goes.

Given the economic and employment trends that are afoot, sleeping with a financial stranger can be hazardous to your financial well-being.

So, how does talking about money become less awkward? Practice.

How do you figure out the best way to manage and merge your finances in a manner that fits best for you and your relationship? Experiment!

If you’ve never done the Financial Wheel exercise, now would be a good time.

If you’re unsure about how to initiate a conversation about money – what to ask, how, when and why – this will help.

If you want to break the pattern of only talking about money when there’s a problem or a crisis – this will help.

If working as a cohesive team is more appealing than managing your financial life as if you were living with a “roommate” – this will help. (By the way, you can maintain separate accounts and still have a cohesive financial strategy.)

And if it turns out you’re the financial stranger that someone is living with and you’re trying to figure out a graceful way to come out of the shadows – this will help.

Completing the Financial Wheel will take you about 20-minutes to do. But the results are long-lasting.

And you’ll learn a lot more than what each other earns!

Click here to get started, or enter your name and email in the below form.

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