Why Couples Argue about Money and How to Stop

Arguments always have two components–the actual practical issue, and the way people feel about the issue. A one step approach of presenting facts won’t get you to a better relationship. A two step approach will be much easier.

financial conflicts and relationship problems
Are financial conflicts damaging your relationship? Or are relationship problems fueling financial conflicts?

People have different values concerning how money should be spent or saved. They also have different ideas of what is important and not important to spend money on. The greater the values and priorities difference a couple have, the more conflict can result.

How we deal with these differences is as important as how we use the money. Many people argue so much about money that they end up losing half of it in a divorce. They are typically trying to convince their spouse that their way of handling money is better.

If you follow what I teach, you will know that I never advocate convincing. Convincing creates greater differences, which in turn further disconnect people emotionally.

We always disconnect on differences and we always connect on similarities.

Use a two step rather than a single step approach to financial conflict

A two step approach to financial conflict entails:

  • 1) working on the practical aspects of managing money, and
  • 2) restoring the emotional connection

It is important to determine which of these steps to work on first. There are some preliminary considerations that will help you to choose the best course.

Determine the cause of your financial conflicts

Always treat the cause and not the symptom. Sometimes the things people fight about are the real issues, and sometimes they are not the real issue at all.

1. Are fears the cause of your financial conflict?

Jennifer’s husband wanted to put a major portion of their income into investments for their future. The problem was that Jennifer was doubtful if they would have a future. She wasn’t thinking about divorce, but she wasn’t happy either. When her husband started talking about their future and investing, it brought her fears to the surface all at once. She would get emotionally reactive and the financial talk turned into an argument.

Men and women like Jennifer, who are not happy with their relationships, become very protective when it comes to money. If you have the feeling that money is more important to your spouse than your relationship, you may be right. This is a divorce early warning sign and a signal to work on your relationship before working on the finances (or other practical issues).

2. Are issues of freedom and power the cause of your financial conflict?

Money is tied to feelings of self worth, security, and personal power. Anything that threatens to take that away can cause people to become overly reactive. For you, it may be a simple financial decision; for your spouse it may be a major personal threat. 

Many men in particular only feel important if they are both making and spending money. Their car is not just something they drive. It is their expression of their self. The same goes for a house, clothes, or other property. Both men and women may be concerned about the social power that comes from a display of wealth. No one wants to appear like they are doing worse than their friends.

Directly trying to get your spouse to stop spending in this situation will be experienced as limiting and controlling. It would mean a loss of freedom and power. To successfully deal with this situation, you will need to help your spouse to feel important and powerful in other ways first.

3. Are differences in the way you prioritize future and present causing conflict?

Even people who agree that they need to save money or invest money still argue. How should they save? How much should they save? When should savings be used?

Such financial conflicts often occur from a lack of financial planning that takes into account the needs and desires of each partner. One person may want to have fun now; one may want to have better retirement living. Instead of arguing the importance of the alternatives, a plan should be made for both. Most of the people I work with who have financial conflict with their spouse do not even have a budget.

Without a budget, whenever one person spends money, it is easy for the other person to see that as a threat to what they believe is important. A budget with line items for individual allowances, vacation money, and retirement planning can help each person to be secure. They can see exactly how much money is allocated for each and not feel threatened. In fact, spending money becomes more enjoyable when you know it has been set aside for that very purpose.

As I wrote in my book on overcoming neediness, my wife and I have a budget. Regardless of how much we each earn, we combine our incomes, allocate fixed amounts for food, insurance, retirement, recreation and other expenses. Any money after that is divided equally into our personal allowances that we can spend however we want. This provides maximum freedom and power, while fostering equality and paying the bills.

In this case, practical change comes first, which then enhances the relationship.

Everyone needs some spending money of their own. Those without it are far more likely to feel controlled and to seek divorce later.

If you think that earning more money means that you get to keep more than your spouse, you don’t understand the meaning of the word married.

Address what is most important to your spouse first

If you are the one more concerned about using money in the here an now, help your spouse with retirement savings first. If you are the one who wants to save for retirement, help your spouse with regular budgeted spending money in the here and now first.

Make sure you phrase it that way, rather than assuming your spouse will just return the favor.

For example, you can say something like: “Let’s make a plan for retirement savings so we can better see how much discretionary income we have to spend.” or “Let’s make a plan for a regular allowance for the both of us. Then we can work on putting some money aside so we can continue to enjoy our lives in the future.”

You don’t have to have the same dream as your spouse. Just find a way to fit your dreams together. The better your relationship, the more similar your dreams will be.

Two lessons for those who want a long and happy marriage

The first is that sooner or later financial crises do happen. So plan for them now rather than hope they don’t happen.

The second is to connect emotionally before trying to work on solutions. Working too much on the practical in a disconnected relationship can push marriages over the edge. 

I have worked with many men and women who believe that their greatest contribution to their marriage was in being a good provider or homemaker, but who ended up having their spouse leave them. They took care of their spouse’s practical needs, but forgot about their spouse’s emotional needs. Their spouse then sought to end their relationship in order to get these emotional needs filled.

We need money to survive, but we need love to live.

Success in finances and relationships requires that you not try to fix everything in a single step

You may be far away from being able to talk about money and visions for your relationship. You need to keep in mind that every close relationship was once not even a relationship. It had to progress through stages over time. That’s what you need to do as well. 

If you just try to jump into the heavy stuff, your talking will bog down and stall. Instead, learn how to help your spouse enjoy talking to you about the light stuff first. And, cut out whatever things you are saying now that distances you. Those two actions together will start to build your ability to communicate with your spouse. 

My free communication ebook for men, or communication lessons for women, will help you with the skills for doing that. For most people, that is all they need to create a satisfying relationship. However, if the distance is too great in your relationship to get yourself back on track, there is still hope. Every weekday, men and women are using my relationship coaching packages to rebuild relationships in even the most disconnected marriages.

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