You will inevitably fight with your spouse over money. Here's how to avoid disaster.
Here's how to hash it out in a healthy way
With apologies to the romantics, on the other side of "I do" are a few incontrovertible truths about your new life together: You will fight. Money will be a big reason. It doesn't have to spell disaster.
The last one doesn't always feel true, especially if — like many of us — talking about finances makes you squirm. Or if you haven't had a lot of practice doing it.
But it will behoove you to learn to fight well, as the disagreements will be hard to avoid. Perhaps one person makes a big purchase without consulting the other, or hides significant transactions all together. Maybe one partner earns more, and thinks that gives him or her a larger — or total — say in how money is spent. It's very likely that one person is a spender and the other is a saver, which can give rise to all sorts of spats. (Interestingly, when it comes to describing their approaches to money, spouses tend to attribute the more virtuous characteristics to themselves (practical, conservative) and the negative ones to their spouses (impulsive, avoidant, emotional).
So how to hash it out in a healthy way? The answer involves having a few key discussions before any conflicts arise, as well as learning some strategies for when you're in the thick of it:
1. Have an open conversation about your financial attitudes and past experiences with money.
Money is an emotional subject, and often spouses aren't just fighting about the issue at hand — say, whether they can afford a big vacation. "They're giving voice to subconscious anxieties that even they may not be aware of — and bumping up against the unarticulated fears of their partners," writes Andrea Coombes in The Wall Street Journal. If you know that your partner grew up in a house where money was tight, or came from an upper-middle-class family that privileged comforts and never discussed budgeting, you'll be in a better position to understand their perspective and behavior when friction does arise.
2. Have a goal-setting conversation.
"It's a good reality check for a couple to sit down once a year, no matter where they are on the financial spectrum, and discuss what they are working toward," legal expert Ann-Margaret Carrozza told Forbes. Couples should also talk about how their big-picture goals realistically will affect everyday spending. Other benefits: It keeps you focused on what you share and are building together, and it ensures both partners have a thorough understanding of their finances.
3. Set a household budget and review your finances together once a month.
Budgets not only effectively help you to track money, but also can prevent conflict by setting clear boundaries for spending and keeping both partners apprised of where their money is going. By setting aside time, you each can prepare and know what to expect, and you'll be more likely to air concerns before they snowball. You might want to include a line item for each partner for fun money — funds that each can use as he or she chooses without reporting back. The breathing room can be welcome.
4. Know when to step away from a fight, but don't take too long.
So your spouse has brought up your surprise big-screen TV purchase and the discussion quickly gets heated. It's okay to take some time to cool off, but don't go for more than a day without touching base. "Accept that you are 50 percent of the problem," financial psychologist Brad Klontz tells Money. This might mean starting with an apology, and then — rather than jumping back into the disagreement on the spot, when your partner isn't ready — setting up time to finish the conversation.
5. Disagree agreeably.
Avoid judgment, nitpicking, and exaggerations (it helps to eliminate "always" and "never" — as in, "you always feel the need to buy the latest electronics!" — from your vocabulary). This also means respecting one another's opinion. And if you don't? "Then fake it," author and mediator Laurie Puhn tells U.S. News & World Report. "Disrespect breeds disrespect. If you ask your spouse why he thinks it's important that he spends money on something, and while he's answering, you cut him off, don't expect to be able to finish your own thoughts during the conversation."
6. Stick to the topic at hand.
It's easy for fights to spiral out of control whether by turning into a rehash of past problems or prompting a rundown of related concerns (or both). But getting sidetracked will make it nearly impossible to resolve the issue that's in front of you. Similarly, don't turn your spouse into the enemy; you're not there to attack them, but rather to talk through a specific problem.
7. Accept your partner's differences and find a compromise.
Help one another get into a compromising mindset through listening and validation. Repeat back to your spouse what he or she has said, so they know they've been heard, and truly try to empathize with their point of view. Helping your partner feel understood can help relieve defensiveness so you can move together toward resolution. As for what that resolution looks like, don't be afraid of compromise. While you don't want to wreck your financial plan, there's often a workable solution somewhere in the middle.