Seeing eye to eye means being on the same page, but when it comes to money matters, couples often find themselves having very different points of view about spending or even saving for that inevitable emergency. The popular press cites money as the No. 1 issue couples argue about. When it comes to relationship issues, money is the most tangible and the easiest to measure. According to a 2011 Utah State University study by Jeffrey Dew, married couples who argued about money on a weekly basis were 30 percent more likely to divorce compared to couples whose money arguments seldom came up.
The following four money topics often cause couple arguments to escalate. Therapist and educator Anne Hanley, Ph.D., offers her tips to help prevent or diffuse such fights.
Stick With the Facts
“Common sense tells us that expenses cannot be greater than what we bring in,” Hanley says. “Spending is one of the most common reasons why couples fight. It seems that when it comes to money, we are blinded by our own personal views on saving and spending. As a couple, if you are having a hard time agreeing on a strategy for spending or saving, chances are that you are bogged down with assumptions and emotions rather than staying with the facts. Facts don’t lie and will definitely help neutralize any argument.”
Create a Budget
“Couples today are under so much stress that sometimes it takes a small thing to upset the balance,” Hanley explains. “This means you have to keep the lines of communication open and live within the boundaries you set. Yes, it is essential to have a budget – a realistic budget will move your emotions from center stage while you and your spouse take a look at the numbers.
“To reduce money tensions in a relationship, a common rule of thumb is to consult your partner before purchasing big-ticket items,” she adds. “How many of us, at one time or another, have lied about the price of something we bought, maybe lowering it a little in our favor? A tip to promote trust is to include in the budget a certain amount of money for each person to spend without any strings attached – if there is no need to explain where or how it was spent, couples will have less money secrets to hide.”
“A couple’s assets tend to strengthen the ties between spouses while their debt, whether incurred before the marriage or during it, increases the likelihood that couples will fight over money matters,” Hanley says.
“Whether it’s paying for insurance, housing costs, car payments or setting aside emergency funds, couples need good communication skills to navigate such important financial decisions. Decide up front how expenses will be handled and how the debt will be paid off.”
Divide and Conquer
“Who has the power to do what? Who is responsible for what? To promote a sense of fairness and empower each person, I suggest splitting up the money tasks,” Hanley says. “One person, for example, may pay the credit card bills while the other handles paying utilities and car payments; or one may balance the checkbook while the other prepares for taxes. Such a practice keeps both of you in the loop.”
With compromise and planning, money matters can be kept in check, allowing for more fun and less arguing.