If we’re honest, we don’t need research to tell us what we already know deep in our bones. We don’t always agree with our partners on money matters. Often, fights with a spouse about spending or saving drive us right to the edge — possibly over it. And when you add our normal potential for fights to the stress we’ve all got surrounding the pandemic, you’ve got a recipe for discord.
“With COVID, there are all kinds of pressures that probably weren’t as intense as they are now,” says Maggie Baker, Ph.D., a psychologist and financial therapy specialist. “People are living in households with each other 24/7, and even with the best of relationships, that can get more than tedious and make people more reactive. It’s easy to fly off the handle and be more irritable.”
But it doesn’t always have to be this way. You really can stop money fights before they get started.
Because your relationship and experiences with money didn’t develop overnight, learning to live harmoniously with someone else with a different financial mindset takes time and effort. Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree and move on for a while before taking up a contentious topic again. We talked to several experts who successfully help couples navigate financial issues together. They offered these proven strategies to communicate more and argue less about money in 2021.
Get it on paper
If you tend to disagree on where money should go outside of typical household expenses and monthly bills, make a list of your money priorities (such as children, parents or an emergency fund) for where each partner feels extra money should be placed right now.
“It’s very important for each person in the couple to write down their pressure points, including whoever (or whatever) will need more financial assistance than usual,” Baker says. “Then list your own personal priorities. Writing it down cements what you are thinking about. If it’s just rolling around in your head, it’s easy to get lost.”
Schedule money talks
Once you have a list, plan a meeting with your significant other. Set guidelines for how the process of your talk will go. Also set a time limit of an hour and agree that neither party leaves the room or the conversation during that time. This method is sure to stop money fights from appearing out of the blue.
“It’s OK to say ‘I don’t like what you said,” Baker notes. “You can talk about how the conversation is making you feel. Just don’t get up and walk out. With such a touchy subject, if someone feels abandoned, that does not bode well.”
Keep chats short and simple
“Short and frequent money discussions are key,” says Sarah Sprague Gerber, AFC, founder of Momentum Financial Planning in San Francisco. “You don’t necessarily want to build up a money discussion into some huge hours-long event. That can be intimidating and you could keep putting it off until it never happens.”
By keeping your chats about money short and focused, you can accomplish small objectives each time and stop them from turning into full-blown money fights. By having talks frequently, say every two weeks or once a month, you help make sure you and your partner stay on the same page.
Compromising is key
Many of us already know we can’t always get what we want when we want it. You should begin conversations about money with the expectation that you are going to have to compromise on some things.
“You will get some of what you want,” Baker says, “but go into the talk with the expectation that you can’t get it all your way. That often helps a lot.”
It’s also crucial to make sure both partners are reflected in your shared personal financial strategy, Gerber says. That means if one of you is comfortable with a very aggressive portfolio but it means the other person can’t sleep at night, that could be a problem. If that’s where you are now, try coming up with some options that take into account both perspectives.
“My partner and I make sure to have specific spending categories that address what is really important to each of us,” Gerber says, “like ‘Asha tea and chai’ or ‘sporting gear.’ Calling each category out and allocating money up front can work well to keep the peace.” (Editor’s note. We had to look up Asha Tea! Very cool. )
Learn to listen (not just talk)
We all have a need to be heard. That means most of us also need to sharpen our listening skills, Baker says. Then, when having a planned money chat, let your partner talk, and repeat back what you heard to confirm that’s what he or she really meant.
“I hear you,” Baker says, are three of the most important words when it comes to talking about money with your partner: “When you can have an honest discussion, when an issue is clearly stated and understood by each person, then you can talk back and forth about it more successfully.”
If you find yourself stuck, don’t give up. You can either agree and move on or agree not to agree, Baker notes, and come back to it later if it’s too hard to do now.
Make regular appointments
It’s important to be proactive and schedule regular check-ins with your partner to talk about money concerns before they become major issues. Set a date and put it on your calendar. Keep the meeting to an hour and stick to the rules you created when you first sat down to talk.
“If a couple can do that, they are going to make some progress,” Baker says. “Money was an issue before it was as scarce as it is now. The uncertainty about what’s going to happen is just draining for people because it’s so hard to plan and because the recovery is so uneven. There are a lot of people who can’t work from home and they are the ones who are suffering enormously.”
Track your spending together
Being aware of what you are spending is key to meeting financial goals in general, Gerber says, but especially when you’re tracking with someone else. It helps to find a good way to ensure both of you are continually on top of what you’re spending to keep you on the same page about your shared goals. By doing this, you are getting ahead of any money fights and stopping them before they start.
Gerber and her partner use Mint and Personal Capital to track their net worth together. They also decided that using an old-fashioned spreadsheet helps them keep track of spending over time in a way that’s meaningful for both of them.
Look to a professional to stop money fights
If you and your spouse are unable to resolve your money issues on your own, consider seeking assistance from a third party such as an accredited financial therapist or counselor. If your partner doesn’t want to take part, our experts suggest going it alone, at least at first.
One area a professional can often help with is showing a couple how to consider their partner’s ‘money stories’ (their experiences, thoughts and ideas about their finances) and how they are likely different.
Even when people come from similar backgrounds, no two money stories are quite the same. In a typical first session with a couple, Gerber says she guides the pair through each person’s story. It is a wonderful way to get to know each other better, she says, and to reveal pieces that might have been hidden by life over time. Couples often will learn something new about each other, even if they are mostly on the same page.
Baker, who wrote, “Crazy About Money: How Emotions Confuse Our Money Choices And What To Do About It,” has been helping people overcome psychological issues with money for 30 years.
“Some people’s emotions and beliefs and attitudes around money only turn out to be half true,” she says. “If someone grew up with a sense of scarcity, there is tremendous anxiety that goes along with having money and also not having money. It’s very easy to self-sabotage when you are avoiding or not looking at all the facts.”
For a list of financial therapists in your area, visit the Financial Therapy Association.
READ MORE ON HERMONEY:
- 4 Couples On How Working Together To Meet Financial Goals Brought Them Closer
- 7 Ways To Successfully Merge Finances As A New Couple
- How Couples Can Split Their Money To Be Fair
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