Every cloud has a silver lining, right? Well, many do. And as hard as the past couple of years of financial catastrophe have been, they have gotten many of us to shape up. We're saving more than we were before, for example. And many people have decided they'll work a few more years to boost their retirement.

But we haven't shaped up as much as we should, and Fidelity Investments' recently released Couples Retirement Study offers evidence. It found that merely 15% of couples are confident in the ability of both partners to handle their finances, and that there has been little improvement in how couples deal with their money. For example:

  • Just 45% of couples jointly make decisions about their day-to-day finances (such as budgeting and paying bills). 
  • Only 38% discuss their retirement investment decisions.
  • They don't agree much, either: 60% disagree on when they'll retire, 44% have no consensus on working in retirement, and 42% have different expected retirement lifestyles. They often don't even agree on whether they have certain investments, such as an IRA or an annuity.

Why it matters
There's danger if you and your spouse aren't discussing finances. If one of you is handling investments, for example, he or she may be doing so much more aggressively or conservatively than the other would like. A discussion can lead to finding common ground that can be more effective than what either spouse would have done alone.

A 2005 Merrill Lynch survey found that women tend to be better investors, making fewer mistakes. Their caution can serve them well, such as with dividend-paying stocks, which some people view as boring. Dividends have actually generated a big chunk of the stock market's returns. (It's amazing but true.)

What to do
So set aside some time to speak regularly about your finances with your spouse. And if you're looking for great investment ideas, take a closer look at dividend-paying stocks. Here are some five-star companies I found from our Motley Fool CAPS community:

Company

Recent dividend yield

3M (NYSE:MMM)

3.5%

Unilever (NYSE:UL)

4.9%

Ingersoll-Rand (NYSE:IR)

3.6%

Spectra Energy (NYSE:SE)

6.2%

Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM)

3.8%

Total (NYSE:TOT)

5.1%

NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX)

5.0%

Data: Motley Fool CAPS.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of 3M. NYSE Euronext is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Spectra Energy, Unilever, and Total SA are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.