I’ll never forget the first big money fight that I had in my relationship with my husband. It occurred during the first month or so of our marriage, and we now affectionately call it “The Water Bill Incident.”
It started out innocently enough. I asked my husband to pay the water bill, and he agreed. But he never got around to it. A week or two later, I got a nasty letter in the mail threatening to turn off the water if we didn’t pay up.
I was annoyed, but I reminded him again to pay the bill. He came home from work that day and told me that he paid it, and that was that.
Fast forward two more weeks, and we got another letter saying our water would be turned off within a day or two. When my husband came home, I asked him again if he’d paid the water bill, and he looked me right in the eye and said yes.
I then held up the letter and he looked down, caught in the lie. He went and paid the bill about 10 minutes later.
To this day, the Water Bill Incident baffles me. It was so unlike my husband to lie to my face like that. He later conceded that he was ashamed that he hadn’t followed through on one of his first official husband duties. He kept meaning to do it, but didn’t get around to it.
Thankfully, this was one of the only really memorable money fights in our relationship, and it was over something pretty small. Still, money arguments are incredibly common in marriages. Luckily, there are ways to avoid them.
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Money and Relationship Stats
Communication is key in any relationship, but the majority of people are unaware of their partners’ financial information, including salaries (41 percent), debts (42 percent), and monthly spending (53 percent), according to Policygenius’ 2021 Couples and Money survey.
In this context, it may make sense why so many relationship issues develop because of money matters. How are couples supposed to avoid money fights when so many people are oblivious to their partner’s financial situation?
Though being transparent about money is a great starting point, there are other strategies you and your partner can use. If you’re a couple who wants to get on the same financial page, there are a few things you can do:
Become Passionate About Common Goals
Many couples dread talking about money — out of a fear of confrontation — but money talks can also bring people together. In fact, if you are able to become passionate about a common goal, it can help you to strengthen your marriage and work as a team.
When you first start dating someone, it seems so easy to get along with them. You feel like you could win any race and conquer any goal together. As you get comfortable, you begin to notice more flaws in the other person and, somewhere along the way, you stop working together as a team.
Setting common money goals is a great way to bring purpose and excitement back to your life together. The relationship becomes stronger as you pass each financial milestone.
Give Each Other Some Spending Independence
In most couples, there is a spender and a saver. This is definitely true in my house. (No prize for guessing who the saver is!) What I’ve learned after many tense money fights is that each person in the relationship really needs their own money to spend, without any questions asked.
Every month, my husband and I each receive $225 that automatically goes onto a prepaid debit card. This is for fun extras. We have complete freedom to spend it without consulting each other. It might seem like a lot, but we decided extras included things like clothes, shoes, salon visits (hello highlights), coffee, and makeup.
This makes it more challenging for both of us, but it forces us to make conscious choices about spending. Before, I’d go to Starbucks without even thinking about it. Now that it’s part of my “fun money,” I have to really consider if it’s worth it.
Giving each of us spending money with no strings attached has really helped reduce tension at home. My husband has amazing taste and always goes for quality, whether it’s his shaving cream or his socks. So now he doesn’t have to put up with me pestering him about a $12 pair of socks. Instead, he can make a choice to use his fun money.
Talk About Your Financial Upbringing
Some people were born with a proverbial silver spoon; some of us were lucky to inherit a tin can. Like it or not, we all have our own financial baggage that we carry into our relationships. To help “unpack,” sit down with your partner over a bottle of vino or a cup of coffee and ask about their financial upbringing.
“I often see that couples who struggle with money are often triggered by the events, like bounced checks or unpaid bills, and very seldom deal with the deeper issues and beliefs each partner has about money,” states Daniel Jurek, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT).
“Couples must enter into a number of dialogues about each partner’s beliefs about money. These challenging conversations need to focus on how each person was taught about the value of money, and are opportunities to understand and value each other on a deeper level,” Jurek adds.
What role did money play when they were growing up? How did it make them feel? When did they first realize that money was powerful? Was it a taboo subject at home?
My partner and I have drastically different financial upbringings, and it has been a source of conflict and misunderstanding. These questions offer insight into how your partner formed their relationship with money.
Conflicts arise when we don’t understand our partner. Asking simple questions can help start a real-life dialogue about your financial future.
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Discuss Your Dreams
Money is a tool to help you achieve your goals. Sometimes fights arise because everyone in the relationship is not on the same page.
The solution? Discuss your wildest dreams with your partner: What do you want out of life? Want to have four kids and a farm? Do you want to quit your job? Travel to every country in the world? Retire early? Whatever it is, your partner should be the key person to know.
Though all your dreams may not be the same, you can offer emotional support to help each other.
Understand Your Financial Personalities
Everyone has a unique financial personality. What’s yours? Your partner’s? Are you thrifty or lavish? Is saving a chore or a pleasure? What is your investing philosophy? Do you have an investing philosophy?
Is money a stressor or a means to an end? Is your partner generous or miserly in nature?
“Many couples say their financial personalities conflict. But often, this is a subconscious justification for avoiding uncomfortable money conversations,” says Adam Kol, a couples financial coach.
“Differences can complement each other. The saver teaches structure and discipline. The spender teaches presence and adventure. Let your strengths shine — you’ll both be better off for it.”
Understanding each other’s financial personality can help you create harmony in your relationship.
Create a Plan — Together
Once you discuss your goals and understand each other’s financial personality, it’s time to create a plan. Money is a stressful topic, especially when we aren’t managing it properly. If you budget, save together, and plan for your respective goals, you’ll feel more secure.
“Couples can best discuss financial goals by having each partner make a list of their goals: short- (up to three years), medium- (three to five years), and long-term (over five years),” says LMFT Carine Keenan. “After highlighting the common goals on both lists, they develop objectives (steps), which will bring them closer to reaching their financial goals.”
Figure out how much you can save in the short and long term. Look at areas in your budget that you and your partner can cut back on in order to fund your life goals. Whenever there is conflict, revise the plan. Keep in mind that as life changes, so might your joint financial needs.
The Bottom Line
As someone who has had many family budget meetings, I can tell you that some conversations will go well and some won’t. There will be really tense money fights and there will be some very productive conversations in your relationship.
The point is to be more open with your spouse and to try to be on the same page when it comes to your finances. Don’t become another statistic about money fights and relationships. We all know that money issues can lead to divorce. Instead, take control and put a lot of heart and soul into this aspect of your marriage.
With some effort, persistence, and compromise, you’ll be surprised at how financially well off you can be with a strong partner by your side. Once money becomes a comfortable topic to discuss, you’ll have more time and energy to spend building a stronger connection with your loved one.
Additional reporting by Melanie Lockert and Ellie Schmitt.