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Arguing About Money With Your Partner? Take 4 Tips From a Couples Therapist

Chelsey Zhu  |  February 14, 2023

How we argue is just as important as what we argue about. Learn how to listen and work through your fights — financial or otherwise.

In every relationship, there comes a point where you’ll disagree with your significant other about money. The issue could be big (how do we pay off our debts?) or small (how much should we spend on dinner?), but what’s guaranteed is that you’ll eventually butt heads. And once that happens, the last thing you want to do is get sucked into a heated, never-ending argument. 

The first step to working through these problems is understanding that fights about money are about more than just money. They are often “veiled issues,” says Elizabeth Earnshaw, a couples therapist and co-founder of the counseling service OURS Wellness. 

“Are we supposed to have fun with our money, or are we supposed to be more thoughtful and plan with our money? Is money here for us just to use while we live, or is money here to save until we die? These types of things come up again and again,” she says. 

Earnshaw joined us on the HerMoney Podcast to talk through all of the do’s and don’ts of talking with your partner about money. 

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Money is often a symbol of our deeper wants and fears. After all, we need money to have food and shelter, to care for our families, and to protect us when we fall on hard times. Recognizing that beliefs about money are rooted in emotions and past experiences can help you understand where your partner is coming from, and vice versa. 

When Earnshaw works with couples on money issues, one of the first exercises she asks them to do is share their philosophies and fears around money. To identify your philosophy, write down a list of your “shoulds” — what do you think people should do with their money? You might write something like, “People should avoid going into debt no matter what.” Your partner might say, “People should use credit to buy things, as long as they can pay it off eventually.” 

Then move on to your fears. What are you worried about when it comes to money? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t follow your philosophy? 

“The daily fear could be that day in and day out, we’re stressed, and we have to worry about whether we can pay for gas. The catastrophe is we lose our home,” says Earnshaw. “The other side of the spectrum might be, day in and day out, we’re boring. We don’t ever have any fun. The catastrophe is that I die before I enjoy my life.” 

Once you’ve seen your partner be vulnerable with their emotions, it’s easier to recognize that neither of you is necessarily right or wrong — you’re just coming from different places. 


The number one mistake Earnshaw sees couples make is diving right into problem-solving mode whenever they have an argument. Then they jump to the easiest solution, which is usually to completely ignore the problem or let one partner “win” without any compromise. 

But truly solving the issue takes more time and — most importantly — listening skills. Ask your partner where their philosophies and fears come from. Where did they learn that credit card debt was useful? Why are they afraid of living a boring life? Ask follow-up questions, reflect what they’re saying back to them to show you understand, and allow them to correct you. Slowing down and showing genuine curiosity signals to your partner that you care about their thoughts, and helps them open up to yours as well. 


Fighting with your partner about anything is stressful, but money can be a particularly heated topic. And if the argument becomes intense, your body will start to have a physical reaction — parts of your brain will actually shut down and put you into fight, flight, or freeze mode. You’ll know this is happening if you can no longer express affection, curiosity, or humor, says Earnshaw. “And if your partner is getting that way, no matter what you’re saying — you’re trying to make a joke, you’re asking for a hug, you’re trying to problem solve — it doesn’t matter. They can’t hear that. So the best thing to do in those moments is to say, ‘Hey, let’s come back to this later.’”

Wait at least 20 minutes for the stress hormones to leave your body before resuming the conversation. 


The best way to take the edge off of hard conversations is to do them more often. Earnshaw recommends setting a weekly meeting with your partner to sit down and check in on your relationship. “Ask each other, ‘What went well this week? How did I shine for you? How did we not show up for each other this week? What do we need this coming week?’” she says. 

You can look at the specifics (e.g. upcoming bills) and the bigger picture (e.g. emotions around spending more/less money). The first meeting might be tense, but as you and your partner work to understand each other, the negative emotions will fade. Talking about money will just be another thing to cross off your checklist. 

To hear more of Elizabeth Earnshaw’s advice on relationships, you can listen to her episode of the podcast here.

SUBSCRIBE: For more tips on navigating money and relationships, subscribe to the HerMoney newsletters!


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