Just in time for Valentine’s Day, there’s been a study released by Elevate’s Center for the New Middle Class about love and money. As you may have heard, financial problems are one of the leading causes of relationship strife. But it doesn’t have to be that way! I’m a huge proponent for talking openly about money with your partner (and everyone else in your life!) Money touches every part of our lives, so it’s important to get on the same page with the person you’re sharing your life with.

Do you, like 21 percent of the marriages in this study, exhibit behaviors of unhealthy financial partnership? This can look like:

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Even if this is how your relationship has felt so far, there are changes that you can make to improve how you talk about money.

Discuss Your Financial Goals

One of the most important things in a relationship is to talk about your goals together. Your individual goals and your goals as a couple. You might learn things about your partner that you didn’t know before! Plus, if you’re working on goals together, you’ll feel more like a team. So schedule a date where you can talk about your financial goals. Incorporate something fun so it isn’t so scary. Make brownies and have the conversation over them, or reward yourself with a delicious dinner out after finishing the conversation. This is just a first step to open up the lines of communication about money.

Do you feel like you need to get clear on your own goals before having this conversation? Sit down with yourself and explore your values. What financial goals do you want to set that will align with your values and get you to where you want to be in life? Of course, this self-exploration won’t be immediate, but it’s a great way to start figuring out where you want to end up. Once you bring these goals to your partner, together you can expand on them.

Define Family Goals, If You Have Them

Do you want to have children someday? Do you want to buy a home? Quit your job and live off your partner’s salary? These are important questions to answer with your partner. The earlier you talk about these, the better! That way, you can figure out if there’s a dealbreaker or if there is something you’re willing to compromise on.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of raising a child to the age of 17 is roughly $250,000. That’s a lot of money, even if it’s spread over 17 years! It’s important to be in agreement with your partner about big decisions like this one. Plus, you might be surprised to learn things about what your partner does or doesn’t want in the future, especially if you’ve never discussed this before.

Be Transparent

According to the survey, 24 percent of respondents say they are not confident that their partner is entirely honest about their spending with them. Wow! That’s almost a quarter of respondents. That’s a lot of people who don’t trust what their partners are telling them about money. So try to be as transparent as you can about your spending. One idea is to set a weekly money date to review your household spending. It’s important to be open and honest so that you can stick to your budget together.

Of course, you don’t have to report back to your partner for every dollar you spend. That would be obnoxious. And if you have a partner who demands that from you, there might be a much bigger issue at hand.

Combine Some of Your Finances

I personally am not a proponent for combining all of our money in a romantic relationship. This opinion mostly comes from my overprotectiveness of women and wanting them to have their own financial security in the case of a relationship dissolution. However, according to this study, couples who co-mingled their financial accounts were more likely to report having shared financial goals and seeing eye-to-eye on their finances.

In my own relationship, things did start to improve when we got a shared credit card. We use this card for any purchase that we are sharing responsibility for. It makes it so much easier to track our joint spending and split costs accordingly. Before we got the card, I always worried one of us was spending more than the other on things like groceries. I wanted to make sure things were fair, and the credit card has helped with that. Now that we own a house together and are saving for our wedding and other goals, we have opened a joint checking and a couple joint savings accounts. This way, we can put money for the mortgage and our savings goals directly into the accounts where we both can see. It makes it much easier to track our progress, and I’m no longer anxious to get Dan to transfer money to me for the mortgage at the end of the month.

So, while I still think that people in couples should maintain their own accounts to an extent, there definitely is a benefit in having joint accounts. As always, you should do what you feel the most comfortable with, and what will work best for you and your relationship.

Be Empathetic

Empathy and understanding is so, so important when you’re talking to anyone about money. But it’s especially important when you’re talking to your romantic partner. When you’re having difficult conversations, try to see things from your partner’s point of view. Try to remove your own biases and understand where they are coming from, given their personal experiences.

Think about it like you’re both from completely different planets. Pretend that you’re both coming from a place with different customs, laws, and practices. If you try to remember that your partner does not have the same thoughts and experiences as you do, it’s so much easier to listen to them with empathy. I learned this in a recent Imago Center pre-marital workshop, and it’s a fascinating exercise and really allows you to have more impactful conversations with your partner. You can use this approach in any difficult conversation with your partner too, not just with money!

How do you and your partner talk about money? Have you ever used any of these tips? Share your story in the comments!