Arguments about money are about more than money. In every heated discussion about overspending, mismanagement, bills being ignored, issues of envy, guilt, shame, fear loom large. Financial therapists and counsellors understand this, which is why, in addition to helping with brass taxes financial decisions, they also look at the emotions behind money arguments. This better helps individuals and couples gain a better sense of the complex mechanisms at work so they can make better decisions and have fewer arguments.
“For many people, the thought of entering financial coaching or money counseling means something is or has gone wrong,” says AJ Bishop, Chief Executive Officer and the Founder of My Wealth Conscious Coach. “Sure, they understand and know they have a disconnect around money, but it’s not an unworkable topic. Therefore, good, hardworking, reasonable people attempt to resolve the “I-can-do-it-all-by-myself” items and avoid the major topics and financial issues that do create conflict, tension, and sometimes fights about money.’
Financial counsellors and therapists see a lot of the same arguments over and over again. They’re also keenly able to help couples identify the various larger issues at play and help them end the arguments once and for all. Here, then, are a few of the more common money arguments in marriage they see — and some ways to prevent them from cropping up again and again.
The Money Argument: Your Financial Visions are Misaligned
Very often couples who struggle financially are not on the same page when it comes to their overall vision. They have different priorities on what is important, spending-wise, or different ideas on how to spend money. This can create problems right from the start that can only grow worse over time. One person wants to go on a lavish vacation, while the other wants to save to buy a house. Over time, each person comes to resent the other, thinking that they’re either cheap or that they spend too much.
The Solution: Couples need to sit down separately and map out their own financial visions and then do the same thing together. And, if you’ve done that already, do it again and often. “Priorities, goals and objectives change regularly,” Bishop says. “Don’t make assumptions that you’re heading in the same direction because you had the conversation that one time.”
The Money Argument: There’s no follow-through on financial goals
So, you’ve established your financial plan and you’re committed and ready to make a change. But then….nothing happens. It’s easy to brainstorm, but a lot harder to turn that brainstorming into action. And, when that doesn’t happen, you both tend to fall back into the same routines where very little to nothing gets accomplished.
The Solution: Set specific goals and dates by which those goals will be accomplished. Don’t just say, “We’re going to save more.” Say, “I want us to have saved X amount of dollars by this date,” and then commit to seeing it through. “This is where your commitment and discipline comes into action,” says Bishop.” You’ve determined the most impactful ways to achieve your goals or vision and now you just have to follow through.”
The Money Argument: One Partner Tends to Overspend
This problem stems from a lack of communication over finances. One partner may just not know how much is being spent or even how much it actually takes to run a household.·”They often never get around to looking at their cash as a team until the accusation erupts into World War II,” says Carrie Rattle,a financial therapist and coach and CEO of Behavioral Cents. ‘One partner is accusatory, the other defensive, and so the issue dies…until the next time.”
The Solution: You and your partner need to sit down and devise a spending plan, looking at all of your expenses. You also need to create boundaries on spending so that one partner or the other doesn’t overspend, but also doesn’t feel like they’re looking over their shoulder. So, for example, purchases under a certain, agreed-upon amount (say, a few hundred dollars) don’t require spousal consultation, but larger purchases do. Rattle adds that committing to regularly track spending according to category is crucial — and requires behavior change on both sides.
The Problem: Antiquated beliefs about money lead to poor preparation
There are still many people who hold onto outdated views on money, and it is having a long-term impact on how they handle finances. For example, there is often the perception that “men handle the money,” which leads to a lot of women not being prepared for financial issues when they become adults. Similarly, many couples don’t talk about money while they’re dating, as it’s not seen as a “fun” or “romantic” topic. This leads to them being completely unprepared when it becomes time for them to manage money together.
The Solution: Try a “Money Story” exercise where you and your partner look back on how your opinions on money were shaped and the feelings you had associated with financial experiences when you were younger. Try to look at the beliefs that have been passed down through the family and see how they may be influencing you even today. Such exercises, according to Rattle, “help the partners define their roles together to find common ground not only on responsibilities for money management but also for future goals and how they will each contribute to achieving them
The Money Argument: One partner is frustrated because they deal with all the financial issues
In some marriages, one spouse might not be good with numbers, or they might not feel like they have the confidence to take on financial challenges. Over time, that leads to the other partner shouldering all of the weight and making all the decisions. This can cause extra stress in the marriage and even lead to resentment as one spouse feels like they’re taking on more than their share.
The Solution: Communication is key. That is, don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your concerns about money or your inability to handle it. If you need to, seek help from a financial therapist who can work with couples. “Lack of confidence and fear can usually be tackled with inclusion, respect for questions, education, and reframing thoughts around money,” says Rattle. This support may be provided not only in session but in between sessions when money decisions need to be made quickly. “Money management has so many layers of sophistication to it that there literally is no dumb question – a simple question can lead to a discussion around choices, goals, tax implications, etc. Explaining this often brings relief.”