Do you feel like you’re having the same handful of arguments with your partner when it comes to money? Maybe your flashpoint is household responsibilities or childcare. Maybe your recurring conflict is about sex. For many couples, the issue is money. In this article, I’ll explore how you can change the tenor of your discussions from worn-out argument to constructive conflict. Let’s talk about how to stop fighting about money, channeling our energy into productive discussions instead.
Believe it or not, your friends, neighbors, and relatives have likely also fought about money with their partner in the last year. Relationship therapists and financial planners alike will give you the same advice as a starting point: you have to be on the same team. If the tension in your relationship is a constant push-pull, finding alignment and transparency on these topics is a solid place to begin.
It’s a fair question, especially if you find yourself rehashing the same conflict day in and day out. Here’s the thing: you may only see your in-laws a few times a year. You may only clash parenting styles a few times a month. Arguments over sex? Maybe weekly, maybe more or less often. But no matter how long you and your partner have been together, there is one unavoidable presence in your life daily, and that’s your finances.
From the $7 latte to the luxury handbag, the #treatyoself movement has become a staple of American culture– and sometimes it can damage your relationship. On the flip side, maybe you’re pinching pennies, and your spouse spends more freely. It doesn’t always turn into a fight, but the less you’re talking about it, the more time trouble has to fester under the surface in your relationship.
Couples fight about money for many reasons. Maybe your partner was raised with different attitudes and beliefs about saving or spending. Perhaps you are looking at different priorities or goals. Perhaps the fight isn’t so much about money but power and control. Once you get to the root of your problem, you’ll be able to start building your way toward a solution.
You bet it can. Financial infidelity or an unwillingness to compromise are two behaviors that can ruin your relationship at any stage. I’m not saying these arguments are a death sentence, but you’ll need to get serious about finding common ground and starting to work in the same direction. Otherwise, you’ll find you are pulling apart instead of working together.
Maybe it’s paying off your student loans or investing in college savings accounts for your children. Maybe you’d like to travel together, or pay off outstanding credit card debt, or renovate your kitchen. I’d start by sitting down and identifying your priorities, both as individuals and as a couple. If you can point to some overlaps, these are the areas where you can start.
Once you’ve identified a common goal, you can leverage teamwork to move toward it. If you can focus your energy as a couple, you’ll be working as a team again. This is where you’ll want to start.
This is a go-to bit of advice– not just from me but also from many other experts. When you schedule a regular date to discuss your financial challenges and goals, you’re holding each other and yourselves accountable.
If you know there is time set aside to visit this topic, you may be less inclined to bring it up in a stressful moment. If you know that there will be a time and a place for the discussion (or the conflict), you’ll have time to cool off and approach the topic in a level-headed way.
Money dates should be a regular item on your schedule as a couple. Whether weekly, biweekly, or monthly, these check-ins will allow you to raise concerns and discuss your objectives together before things reach a boiling point.
Not sure where to begin with making this a date? Try the framework outlined in John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman in their book Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.
Listening can be tough, especially if you’ve fallen into the rut of a regular financial argument. But make a genuine effort to take time and understand things from your partner’s perspective. His relentless pursuit of a luxury car or watch may have more to do with his upbringing than he has mentioned in the past. Or maybe he shops as a distraction from a stressful and unfulfilling job.
This is some hard advice to follow, but when you’re inclined to interrupt, try counting slowly to five. There’s a chance your spouse may have just been gearing up for a breakthrough when you reach the limit of your frustration; give him the airtime you maybe haven’t allowed in the past. By the same token, you need to carve this same space out for yourself. If he is prone to bulldozing the conversation, be sure to hold your ground by saying, “just let me finish my thought,” or “I really need to get this part out.”
Interrupting the pattern might help you gain new insight into why behaviors are manifesting the way they do.
If you don’t have $500 – $1,000 set aside to cushion an emergency, this can fuel the endless stress of fielding the unexpected and feeling overwhelmed. My online course can get you to $1000 Savings Fast, giving you one line of defense against the everyday stress of an empty savings account.
When one of you lands an unexpected expense, pull from your emergency fund and keep moving forward. You’ll need to refill those emergency savings, of course, but at least you haven’t loaded more onto your debt load in the process of responding to the unexpected. This can keep the panic from rising and your focus on the prize.
This won’t happen all at once, but maybe you name a day to sit down and assess your debts– all of them– together. Tally what the damage is, and get real with one another. Burying your heads in the sand will not gain you any ground.
Maybe you don’t even know what your total debts are or what your shared goals might be. If that’s the case for you, my Crush Your Debt online course may be a good place to start. It’s packed with exercises and conversation prompts that will help to facilitate the conversations you need to make headway. It will also provide you with the shared language lacking in your current dialogue about money.
Business Insider and other sources cite finances as a primary cause of argument and divorce. It can be challenging to look beyond your arguments, especially if the script is familiar and you have shaped a routine or developed regular triggers. But as Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s longtime-bestselling book Your Money or Your Life lays it out: you have a choice. Don’t let your financial squabbles rob you of the other things in life that matter, your marriage included.
If you commit to honest, vulnerable communication about money, you can overcome your challenges. Even if your challenges seem insurmountable, tackling them as a team can bring you closer together. First, each of you must commit to doing the work. From there, the only way to go is up.
Once you’ve committed to working together, you might even find that you enjoy problem-solving money troubles as a united front. When you feel the sparks of an argument beginning to fly, remember to step back and take a breath. Approaching this as a conversation will be more productive than giving in to combustion.
Above all, remember your “why.” Your marriage, your home, your children if you have them– these are the things you are fighting for. Suppose you need to enlist the help of a couples therapist, a financial advisor, or even an attorney to help detangle this mess. In that case, some professionals deal with these conflicts daily through their work. Trust that there are people who can help, you have options, and that through hard work together, you can lay your financial demons to rest.
Relationships take teamwork and a willingness to be vulnerable with your partner. As much as these principles apply to any piece of your relationship, you can apply them to money as well. Open communication, shared goals, and mutual effort in a direction together will help you to work as a team and put a stop to fighting about money.