Disagreements are a normal part of every relationship. And when it comes to conflict, research suggests 31 percent of couples argue about money, at least one time a month.
These fights can be frequent and challenging to resolve. Why? Because people often become very attached to their views about money, which leaves little room for compromise. Left unaddressed, arguing about money can be toxic in any relationship and may even lead to divorce.
Be optimistic about your relationship’s future
The good news is that these disagreements don’t need to ruin your partnership. In fact, a few simple tips can help prevent differences from turning into larger issues.
The first step is to understand how you developed your relationship with money. While we might not see these problems as childhood issues, values about money often originate from our early family experiences. Dr. John Gottman, an expert couple’s therapist and researcher, calls this a money map — a blueprint that guides how we think and feel about spending and saving money. For example, savers may have come from families where money was sparse while spenders might come from homes where money wasn’t discussed and was spent freely.
While it might seem like common sense can resolve these money differences, Gottman has found that logic rarely erases money conflicts. Why? Because arguments about money often stem from how we feel about spending and saving, and our emotions don’t always respond to reason.
Financial disagreements don’t need to become relationship deal breakers. Learning to recognize the most common money pitfalls can help couples discuss and settle their conflicts with greater ease.
Spending and saving disparities
According to the American Psychological Association, different beliefs about money often lead to relationship conflict. One partner might live by the mantra, “spend for today,” while the other may always save for a rainy day.
Neither of these views is right or wrong, but believing that there’s only one solution causes couples to get stuck.
The solution: talk about your money history. Understanding different perspectives can help couples find common ground. Try answering questions like: “How did you form your values about money?” “How did your family talk about money?” and “What worries you about your partner’s beliefs?”
From there, try to compromise by agreeing on a set amount to spend and save each month. Make a reasonable goal by looking at your monthly income and expenses. If you get stuck, seeing a financial counselor may help.
Conflicts over credit card use
Nearly forty percent of Americans have credit card debt. And while carrying a balance on one’s Visa isn’t uncommon, couples often argue about debt because it causes anxiety.
For starters, not having debt can make it challenging to understand why a loved one doesn’t pay off their balance. Thoughts like, “Are they financially responsible?” and “Are they spending beyond their means?” are common worries.
The solution: before jumping to conclusions, inquire about the rest of the story. Did your partner have an emergency that caused debt to accumulate? Does he or she have a plan for paying off the balance? Often, in families where money was tight, credit cards were a necessity, not a luxury. For some, debt is the norm, even if it is problematic.
Try to remember that judgment rarely resolves conflict. Before saying something short like “You’re irresponsible,” demonstrate empathy for your partner’s experience by offering to create a solution together. Even if you disagree, say something like, “While I disagree with carrying credit card debt, I understand that you feel differently. How can we support each other and solve this dilemma together?”
Coming up with a plan to pay off the debt and making an agreement about credit card use can help you feel less concerned about future spending.
Shared bank account stress
Maintaining separate bank accounts can give rise to feelings of distrust, but feeling uncomfortable about joining funds rarely means that your partner has commitment issues.
The solution: instead of getting into a tug-of-war about the right or wrong way to share money, you might want to sit down with a financial advisor and discuss your options. Having an objective person guide this discussion can help quell intense emotions, creating space for conversation and compromise.
Remember, keeping separate accounts doesn’t mean you can’t make joint financial decisions. One possible solution: opt to share a savings account and keep separate checking accounts and set-up a shared google document to record monthly expenses.
Daily coffee at Starbucks, frequent restaurant meals and gym memberships are monthly expenses that can pile up. Unfortunately, couples don’t always agree on how to handle these financial decisions.
While partners may view frivolous spending as wasteful, it’s often linked to self-care. In other words, splurging on a latte may be a form of stress relief. But emotional spending can become a problem, especially if it’s not addressed directly.
The solution: instead of discussing whether or not the spending is necessary, talk about the meaning of your purchase. Having this conversation can help you identify your needs, which opens up new solutions.
For example, instead of spending twenty dollars each week on coffee, you may decide to put that money towards date night. If you work in a high-stress job, going out to lunch may be a form of self-care. If the expense isn’t negotiable, let your partner know. But offer to compromise by looking at some less expensive restaurant options. Talking through these decision points shows that you’re taking responsibility and thinking about these issues.
It’s not uncommon for one partner to earn more than the other. But income disparities can cause feelings of insecurity and unfairness to emerge, especially when there’s a larger income gap.
Where do couples get stuck? Associating a higher salary with greater power to make financial decisions can cause tension.
The solution: share financial decisions. For example, if one partner earns $200,000/year while the other earns $80,000/year, the higher earner may feel more comfortable paying for a new car. However, that shouldn’t exclude the other partner from weighing in on the decision.
Talk your way through
Feeling powerless when it comes to financial choices can lead to resentments. To prevent this dynamic from emerging, look at the reality of your differences and discuss how you can approach decisions fairly and together. Instead of splitting costs down the middle, for example, you may decide to contribute based on your monthly income. Learning how to collaborate can help you work as a team, which lessens feelings of competition and insecurity, making your partnership stronger.
Dr. Juli Fraga is a psychologist and health writer in San Francisco. As a psychologist, she specializes in women’s reproductive health. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not provide tax, legal, or financial advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and financial advisors, as appropriate, before engaging in any transaction.