It's nearly Valentine's Day. Love is in the air. Couples walk hand-in-hand down the street. Flowers and candy flow like water.
But take heart all you singles who secretly wish those nauseatingly happy people in relationships would walk in front of a bus -- or at least get a nasty paper cut. Many of today's beautiful couples will be tomorrow's ugly break-ups.
And if history is any guide, a prime reason for the demise of many couples will be money. Nearly 40 percent of couples say money is the No. 1 thing they argue about, according to a University of Denver survey. Children came in a distant second followed by careers, in-laws and chores.
As unromantic as it may sound, money issues profoundly affect romantic relationships, usually in an unhealthy way.
Simple money matters can trip up a relationship. Should a couple have separate checking accounts or a joint account? If one person says "no" and the other "yes," the second individual may think the first isn't committed to the relationship. Next thing you know, plants are flying across the room.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you avoid fights over money and to enjoy many more Valentine's Days to come.
Tip 1: No secrets.
Many couples can talk about religion, sex and the meaning of life. But when it comes to discussing money, they're about as comfortable as a rabbi at a KKK meeting.
Failure to talk about your finances and your money styles is also a failure to plan and to plan effectively. And that's one of the biggest reasons why couples can get into financial trouble. You should disclose as much as you can to each other, including your salary, debt load, student loans, inheritance, savings and credit status.
Start by having small conversations. Not just one big one. And do it on your leisure time. Don't try to fit it in on the way to work or when you both come home and are exhausted.
Tip 2: To combine or not to combine?
Figure out as a couple what your joint expenses are as well as how you want to save and how you want to spend your money.
If you are a younger couple without a lot of assets, a joint account can work well. This lets you build together from the ground up, creating what Jeff Opdyke, author of Love & Money, calls financial intimacy.
But if you're an older couple, separate accounts may make sense. You both may already have successful careers and financial systems set up that you want to keep intact. Keep in mind that while separate accounts may be yours, you still want to share your financial information with your partner.
A third option -- and my personal favorite -- is to have a joint account for some expenses (joint savings and living expenses) and separate accounts for individual spending money.
Tip 3: Move with the times. For those in long-term relationships, your money concerns are likely to be different from those you had when you began dating. To keep on the same track, couples should do their bills together each month, which allows them to keep abreast of near-term financial issues.
At the end of the year, you should discuss your big money picture. This is a great opportunity to make sure that you're still aware of each other's desires and goals -- from taking vacations to buying a home.
Also, take time to discuss the "what ifs." What if one partner loses his or her job? What if one wants to go back to school? What if someone gets a job in another part of the country? Will your partner be willing to pack up and move?
Tip 4: Talk about the tough things.
There are some topics that nobody likes to talk about but that need to be discussed.
First and foremost, make sure you have a will. While important for all couples, it's vital for gay couples. Without a will, it's possible, even likely depending on the state and the deceased's family, that the surviving partner could be left with very little or nothing.
Also, sit down and talk about insurance. Consider your need and willingness to pay for life, disability and long-term care insurance. They're not happy topics, but life doesn't always go as planned.
If you follow these tips, you and your partner will save yourself a lot of unnecessary grief. It will also allow you to fight over things that really matter, like who get to control the TV remote.