This Valentine’s day, instead of splashing out on oysters and champagne or shifting money around to buy something shiny, show your love and commitment by planning your future together.
I know, setting life goals together on the annual day of love doesn’t exactly hammer the amorous nail on the head. You won’t find couple goalsetting on any Valentine’s Day listicles, mostly because it can be complicated and uncomfortable. But I’d argue that planning a life together is just about the most romantic thing you can do.
Most of us would rather take a long walk off a short plank than start really looking at what a life together actually entails, especially in a world that is constantly changing. It’s easy to dream about your ideal future together but turning these dreams into reality takes a bit of work. And very few of us even know where to start having the gritty conversations that are necessary, often because they make us confront our deepest and most secret anxieties.
To get you started, here are three key questions that could help you take your relationship to the next level and build a life that matters to you – and those you love.
How do you manage the trade-offs of a dual career household?
You are both ambitious and want to go far in your careers – but you also want a full life together, so how do you balance the inevitable trade-offs?
The advantages of a dual-career household – including greater financial stability – are significant. But dual-career couples face unique challenges, with or without kids in the mix.
Negotiating whose career takes prominence at any given time, juggling two work schedules and household and family duties, and maintaining healthy boundaries between home life and work life are often the most difficult areas to navigate, according to executive coach Amy Jen Su. “While each household is different, the couples I’ve seen overcome these challenges have developed systems that optimise their time and energy – as a unit.” she says.
Like me, Su is a big fan of planning and communicating and recommends scheduling regular “look-ahead meetings” to plan and set expectations. “These meetings are times for open, honest communication, which will help you both stay actively involved in big decisions about career changes, projects, or goals.
How do you talk about money with a partner or a potential partner?
If the first time you talk about money in your relationship is when you hit a money-related roadblock, then that’s probably too late. We know that bringing up finances may not be the easiest thing to do – not all of us are eager to divulge how much we earn or how much debt we have on a first date – but experts are unanimous that broaching the topic early can help set and manage expectations later on. And this translates into a happier more fulfilled partnership.
Study after study has shown that finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships. And it’s not just about how much you earn, or if one of you earns way more than the other, conflicting views and values about money can stoke tensions which means even if you have plenty of money to go around you can still find yourself in conflict.
If you are puzzling about how to bring up the money conversation with your partner, a good place to start can be to ask them about their financial goals in the next three to five years and then let the conversation flow from there. And if you have been together for many years and are already comfortable talking about money, setting common financial goals can help to create a joint sense of purpose that will strengthen the relationship.
How do you prepare your kids for an unknown future?
You decided long ago you want three children. But have you considered the cost of their education? More than that, what course of education and development should parents take to make sure their children can thrive in a world of gig economies, artificial intelligence, uncertainty, and careers that have no names yet? Should they be learning multiple languages? Is coding vital? How do we begin leading them down the path to living healthy, normal lives?
There is of course no one-size-fits-all approach but making sure your values and goals are aligned – or identifying where they are not so that they don’t trip you and your children up – is crucial. And don’t be afraid to set ambitious goals for your children too. Research from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the American Academy of Paediatrics discovered that parent’s expectations are a strong predictor of their child’s success in later life.
These are all very heavy and difficult questions, and the ones we’ve touched on here are just the tip of the iceberg! It can help to have an experienced guide to take you through these conversations.
So, this Valentine’s Day, set a nice table. Put out a small platter of delicious finger food. Light a few candles. Push play on your favourite music. Pop the cork on a bottle of champagne and pour three glasses. One each for you and your beloved and one for a professional financial advisor. In the years to come, I can guarantee you’ll be glad you did!
* Lilian Dombo is a senior consultant at Lifecheq, an independent financial and life advisory service.