Money ranks high up on the list of things married couples fight about. In fact, along with kids and sex, it makes the top three on just about any list of topics that cause problems and is the number one cause of divorce. In spite of being such an important (and potentially problem-causing) topic, it is one that so many couples avoid facing. Rather than let habits and patterns get established that will bubble up throughout the life of a marriage, it makes sense to start thinking—and talking—about shared financial goals and realities as soon as the relationship becomes serious. Sustaining a long and successful marriage has plenty of challenges. Here are some steps couples can take to ensure that finances aren’t one of them.

Communicate Attitudes and Realities

Ideally, couples will have had serious conversations regarding money well before they get married. It is never too early to start. The good news is, it is also never too late. Designate a date night to get busy… discussing income and expenses, that is! If it goes well, one thing should lead to another and before long, couples can identify goals and map out financial plans. It all starts with communication.

Identify Goals

Is buying a home a dream? Having kids? Prioritizing travel, tackling debt, or retiring early? There’s no right or wrong financial goal. It is critical for both people in the relationship to identify and articulate theirs, though, in order to figure out which ones are shared and which ones may require compromise and negotiation. Unless a couple is working toward the same goals, there’s bound to be misunderstanding and conflict.

Formulate a Plan

Once goals have been outlined and prioritized, it’s time to plan out how to achieve them. This is where the household budget comes into play. Working together to develop a realistic budget helps to ensure that goals are being worked toward and day-to-day expenses are being managed. When both partners contribute to the process, it sets it up for success.

Successful budgeting requires being realistic about anticipated expenses, honest about actual spending, accountable about behavior, and flexible about adjusting and readjusting until it works.

The newlywed stage in a marriage is one that many couples look back on most fondly, as it is the time when they are still discovering each other. What’s more intoxicating than new love? In order to increase the odds that they’ll still look at each other fondly when the newness wears off, couples should be sure to add financials to the list of things to discover about each other, sooner rather than later. Communicate, identify and articulate, and formulate is a great formula for success.