It’s been said that money is the #1 cause of divorce. Or to say it another way–Marriage is about love, divorce is about money. To that we may add that money is the #1 cause of turmoil in a marriage. Strife over money can last years in a marriage if not properly addressed, and short of divorce, can drive a wedge between a husband and wife . This doesn’t have to be, and so here are eight tips on fighting with your spouse over money:
- Honestly examine your own attitudes about money: We all have different views and attitudes about money–how it should be spent, saved, given and so on. Before raising a difficult money issue with your spouse, honestly reexamine your approach and feelings about the issue. You may just find that you need to change as much or more than your spouse. And if not, it will better prepare you for an open-minded discussion when you do raise the issue.
- Make sure you’ve identified the real issue: Is the problem that your spouse just bought a $20,000 bass boat, or that they will be spending more time on the lake than with the family (or both)? Sometimes our feelings can play tricks on us, so it’s important to make sure we know exactly what the problem is before trying to solve it. This process may take some time, so it may be days or even weeks before you raise the issue.
- Consider the place and time of the money discussion: Money is a sensitive topic. Raising a difficult money issue as soon as your spouse walks in the door from a long day’s work or immediately after dealing with the kids is counter-productive. And raising the issue while the in-laws are in town is not a productive approach, either. If life is really crazy, agree in advance when you will sit down to discuss the money matter. Otherwise, try to pick a moment when there are no distractions and you have the time to give the matter the attention it deserves.
- Be honest with your spouse: If after examining your thoughts and feelings on the matter you conclude that there is a serious money issue, keeping it bottled up inside will do you and your marriage no favors. Of course, I’m not talking here about marriages that involve severe physical or emotional abuse, where immediate intervention is required. But for most marriages, both healthy and not so healthy, discussions about how to handle money are an important part of the relationship. Such conversations may not always be pleasant, but the alternative is often a life of “quiet desperation.”
- Listen to your spouse: Approaching these discussions with an open mind and a desire to fully understand your spouse’s perspective is critical and sometimes difficult. You’ve given the issue a lot of thought and are convinced that your spouse’s approach to the money issue is not in your family’s best interest. This makes it difficult to hear why the $20,000 bass boat was a good deal. And it gets even harder to listen if the bass boat is just one of many questionable purchases. Nevertheless, hearing what your spouse has to say is as important as him or her hearing you. In the words of Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand. . . then to be understood.”
- Seek comprise where possible: Many discussions about money appear, at first, to be all or nothing. Either buy the new car, or don’t. Either remodel the kitchen, or don’t. Either go on an expensive vacation, or don’t. With some creative brain storming, however, you just might find common ground through compromise. It may not be the alternative you were hoping for, but marriage is a life-long series of give and take. So where it makes sense, seek compromise as a means to resolve the money issue. My wife and I did this with the purchase of our home four years ago. I did not want to offer the list price (which was then the only way we would get the home), but agreed to do so because of my wife’s willingness to make up the difference through some other financial choices she didn’t favor.
- See the long term: Over the course of many years, our views about money change. I know my views and attitudes about money have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The point is, it may take years for you and your spouse to align your views about money, and even then it likely won’t be a perfect alignment. Rome wasn’t conquered in a day, and most serious money issues aren’t either.
- Seek help: Sometimes money issues become very serious. And the failure to communicate about these issues can indicate even more serious issues within a marriage. My point here is not to set off alarm bells if you and your spouse disagree over whether you should take your lunch to work or eat out. The point is, sometimes marriages need some professional help to get through a tough issue, and that issue might just be about money.
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Published or updated March 23, 2012.