What topics are hard for you to talk about with your spouse?
Money is one of the most common topics couples argue about. It doesn’t matter if you have a little or a lot, managing money together can stir up differences and emotions quickly.
If you have different ideas and spending habits, how do you navigate money management when you share bills and money? Do you keep separate accounts? Or do you sit down each month and pay the bills together? I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to manage your shared money.
Emotions and Money Problems
Yet I do think the more you can take emotions out of money management, the more cooperative you will be when discussing money matters. Here are some signs that your emotions may be holding you captive when it comes to money:
- Spending beyond your means/income
- Hiding debt/credit cards from spouse
- Never opening bills/looking at bank statements
- Letting someone else manage the money for you
- Managing spending for someone else
- Not wanting to talk about financial details
- Overspending to get even with spouse/feel better about self
Do any of these sound like you? Before you point a finger at your spouse, try to only take an inventory of yourself. Once you recognize your part, you can begin to calm the emotional waters under the surface of the conflict about money.
5 Practical Steps for Couples to Fight Less About Money
Step 1. Sort out worry from the financial facts.
When you can tease out your worry from the facts, you better understand your financial reality. Maybe it’s worse than you thought, but maybe it’s not as bad as you had feared.
For instance, Jane worries about her husband Ted’s real estate investments. Jane fears that the real estate mortgage may have to be paid by the family budget. When she looks at the facts, Jane is able to recognize that Ted has never paid for his investment property out of their joint account. So how did this worry get stirred up?
Jane shields Ted from money matters. She handles all the bills and bank statements. She does not want to upset her husband. Ted grew up “dirt poor” as he describes it, so spends freely as he makes it. Ted worries that the money will run out, so he better buy it when he has the money. If there is ever a money problem, Jane figures out a solution. Jane usually spends less to accommodates Ted’s spending habits.
So how does this couple get back on track? The first step is to identify the facts, meaning what they make, what they spend, and how it varies or stays the same.
Step 2. Communicate the facts.
Once both Jane and Ted have separated their money facts from their money worries, they can choose to communicate the facts or the worries with each other. They will soon find out that communicating the facts is much calmer than talking about their fears and worries.
For instance, Jane can include Ted in the bill paying process by stating, “I can’t pay (bill name) this month.” And Ted can also communicate the facts by stating, “I want to buy a new weed eater for $150 next month.” But if Jane or Ted revert back to communicating fears, such as “you never let me spend money” or “I always have to solve your money problems,” then the conflict will return.
It is much easier to discuss the facts then your worries. This approach invites problem-solving by keeping emotions turned down. Once couples are more cooperative and open with each other about their money facts, they can get down to the practical steps of getting their finances on track.
Step 3. Identify your financial goals.
When you are steeped in conflict and differences, you may not think you have a common goal. While you may differ on the small things, I bet you have a common value or goal: To get out of debt? Save for vacations, home repairs, or emergencies? Or to replace your car? Invest in retirement?
Once you have identified your joint long-term financial goals, also identify your short-term, individual goals. Examples of short-term individual goals are joining a sports league or getting weekly manicures.
Whatever your individual goals are, decide whether it is realistic to make both the couple and individual goals happen. If it is realistic, take turns sharing your ideas on how to make your goals a reality!
Step 4. Develop a plan to make your goals happen.
Writing it down helps you see the facts as well as your choices. Define for yourself what you are willing to do and not willing to do. For instance, if you want more cable channels, what are you willing to give up? Is someone willing to make more money or spend less in an area?
Step 5. Follow through with your plan.
I think this is the hardest part. Following through with your financial plan and continuing to manage your emotional reactions with your spouse.
By now you have identified what gets in the way of managing your money better, both inside yourself and between each other. When old habits and heated arguments start to peak their ugly head, ask yourself this: Do you want to act based on how you feel in the situation or your long-term goals?
Don’t let fear and money be your master! Identify the facts under the emotions and let them be your guide.
What helps you co-lead money management matters with your spouse?
If you are stuck trying to manage your emotions regarding money matters and it’s leading to conflict or avoidance of resolving money problems with your spouse, consider consulting a marriage counselor either on your own or together. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consult with me and determine if this is the next step in growing your confidence when it comes to managing money and relationship matters.