Money impacts our emotions. When spouses aren’t on the same page, it can be difficult to see a way forward. In fact, couples with personal finance conflicts have a higher risk of divorce, according to a study on financial issues and divorce.
We’ve found that about 40% of couples felt some resentment toward their significant other/partner when dealing with finances.
Money can be a taboo subject that people avoid talking about, so conversations about financial issues can feel awkward, but it’s still important to have a dialogue about it.
“When couples don’t have money conversations, there will be more conflict down the line,” says Alex Melkumian, Psy.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center.
Not talking about money with your spouse can be costly and lead to financial problems. If you and your partner struggle to have productive conversations about household finances, consider these tips for your next money talk.
No. 1: Recognize your relationship with money
Money triggers a variety of responses, positive and negative, based on past experiences. As money is an extension of our values, conflict can arise when partners have different thoughts about spending and saving.
“We all have differences in how we look at money because of our personal experiences,” says Renee Bourdeaux, an associate professor of communication at Northwest University in Washington. “Approach your partner as if you don’t understand their money story.”
Money arguments aren’t typically about personal finance. Arguments about money can be disguised as power and trust struggles. It’s typically less about your partner’s credit card debt, but more about their beliefs surrounding money.
“Money is a blank canvas that couples use to pull power and control strings,” Melkumian says.
As a married couple, it’s important to understand how money makes you and your partner feel. Maybe you identify as a saver and your partner is a spender. If you have different spending habits and can’t find a way to come together with your two different styles of money management, it can end up causing a lot of relational and financial stress in your marriage.
Your feelings about money will come up in money talks directly and indirectly. For example, if your family struggled with finances growing up, the subject may evoke a lot of stress, which will dictate how you make financial decisions and talk about money.
No. 2: Designate a specific time to talk about money—with guidelines
Talking about family finances can seem rather dull, but it can prove to be beneficial to your relationship. Whether it’s weekly or monthly, find a cadence that works for your relationship.
The goal for money dates is to set aside time to have an open and honest conversation. Lying about finances to your spouse and acts of financial infidelity will only cause trouble down the line and will make these conversations more difficult. Nearly two-thirds of those who have lied to their spouse about a specific money-related topic more than four times in a year reported that talking about finances with their significant other stressed them out, according to the previously mentioned OppU survey.
Use your money talks to uncover the root of your differences and discuss your household budgeting, credit card debt, and savings goals.
Establishing parameters for money talks can help married couples communicate cordially. This is not the opportunity to blame or judge your partner for their money mistakes. A fair fighting contract can help establish guidelines for how money dates can run smoothly.
“When you come to the conversation, establish rules and goals for when you talk about money,” Bourdeaux says. “It should be a safe space for each partner to bring up issues.”
Using “I” statements can prevent the conversation from becoming the blame game. Instead of saying, “You overspent this week,” try focusing on how your spouse’s behavior made you feel. An “I” statement response may be, “I felt disappointed when we didn’t stick to our financial plan.”
It’s easy to point out money problems someone else has caused, but challenge yourself to find something to compliment your spouse on, Melkumim says. This can disarm your spouse in a money argument and diffuse tension.
No. 3: Know when to take a break
Generally, money issues can feel uncomfortable. A married couple should think about taking a break when conversations begin to turn into personal attacks instead of focusing on family finance.
If money conversations become less than civil, they’ve lost their purpose relationally and financially. Disagreements on how to spend or save money will happen, and money arguments can turn ugly quickly.
For this reason, declaring a moratorium or having a code word you can say when the conversation is no longer constructive can help signal that you need to cool down for a bit.
“When you’re navigating differences, notice when the conversation has taken a bad turn,” Bourdeaux says. “Stop, recognize the tension, and find a way to intentionally overcome it.”
No. 4: Remind yourselves that you’re a team
When you talk about money as a team, you can avoid a me-versus-you financial battle with your partner.
“At the end of the day, your marriage should take priority,” Melkumim says.
Creating shared financial goals can help you get into this mindset. Goals can be short-term and long-term and should benefit you both. Tackling goals together, such as paying down credit card debt or student loans, building a savings account, or putting money away in retirement accounts, can help couples hold each other accountable. When you share a goal, the responsibility is on both partners.
About the Author – ASHLEY ALTUS
Ashley Altus covers financial planning with a focus on money management and household finance for OppU. She has been a journalist since 2013 and has investigated issues related to consumer finance and student debt. She has been contributing personal finance content to OppU since 2020, where her articles feature interviews with top experts and researchers in a variety of personal finance spaces, including credit scoring, consumer spending habits, and lending. Ashley’s work has appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine and Cosmopolitan Magazine, and online with The Smart Wallet and Float. Her articles have also been cited by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Washington University in St. Louis. Ashley holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Baylor University and a Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University.