When the topic of finances comes up in the conversations that you and your partner have, do you brace yourself for money fights? Some people think the solution is to simply avoid the topic of money. That approach is problematic, too. What if there were effective strategies you could use to end money fights now?
I asked an expert how to do exactly that.
Whether you’re newlyweds, celebrating a milestone anniversary, or somewhere in between, this conversation is for you. In fact, it’s for anyone looking to start a money conversation without fighting.
Adam Kol is a couples financial counselor at AHK Coaching. He helps couples improve their relationships with money and with each other. His goal is to prevent marriage fights and help you experience more peace and love together. With a decade of experience as a financial advisor, tax attorney, communication coach, and certified mediator, Adam knows a thing or two about having productive conversations.
Take a listen to see how you can stop fighting over money and tackle your goals together today!
Exploring Main Reasons for Money Fights
Most people know that marriage fights often stem from money fights. But what causes those money fights to begin with?
Adam says that many of the pain points around money have to do with significant decisions in a couple’s life. Fighting over money often coincides with making big decisions, such as:
- Deciding to get engaged
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Or have kids
When couples are trying to navigate big choices, money fights can arise.
All couples are going to disagree from time to time. Not every money conversation is going to be pleasant. But the real issue is what happens when fighting over money goes unresolved. That can lead to bitterness and resentment.
Fighting over money can also make one partner feel misunderstood. These negative feelings can fester and erode relationships. Given that domino effect, it’s understandable why money fights and financial stress are often cited as top causes for divorce.
Understanding Your Money Behaviors to Reduce Money Fights
Before you can begin to understand the money fights you might be having, it’s helpful to understand your own money behaviors. Most of us develop our attitudes and beliefs around money when we are kids. We might not spend or save the way our parents did, but we are influenced by our childhood nonetheless.
In addition to being influenced by family and friends, society plays an incredible role in our money behaviors. In our formative years, we are inundated with marketing and other portrayals of how we should act. These portrayals might attempt to define us collectively, but they also dictate how people should spend based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so many other identifiers.
One of the key pieces of ending money fights is to really develop an understanding of your own money behaviors, Adam says. It is crucial to explore our own relationship with money before we look at how we might develop a better relationship with money as a couple.
How to Prevent Money Fights
One of the first things Adam suggests about having better money conversations is to consider the timing. It’s true that many couples could benefit from having money conversations earlier in their relationship, but it probably isn’t first date material.
Everyone has a different relationship timeline. Honor that timeline by having money conversations at an appropriate time. Still not sure when to have that next big money conversation? Adam says that as you feel more trust and your finances start to impact each other more, those are cues to sit down and have money conversations.
Another consideration to make is that not every money conversation is going to be pleasant. Adam says that couples need to learn to realistically differentiate between constructive conversations and nasty fights. Money can be stressful, so it’s not uncommon for one or both partners to feel nervous or uncomfortable from time to time. That’s why Adam says it’s important to brace for tension and discomfort.
That discomfort is temporary, though. The more couples practice having money conversations, the safer it feels. Plus, simply being willing to practice these money conversations on a regular basis can go a long way in staving off money fights.
When couples have money conversations, they are unknowingly addressing past money issues from previous relationships as well. There may be instances of financial abuse or being taken advantage of that one or both partners need to sort out. That means that when you start a money conversation, you need to have some awareness of how both partners will bring the impact of past relationships into your current relationship.
Build a Budget Together
It might not happen during the first money conversation, but eventually, you need to look at hard numbers as a couple. This can be difficult and daunting. But talking about money together doesn’t mean you won’t feel financial stress ever again. Money issues might still arise, but now you will be better equipped to notice them and work together to solve them.
One way to look at hard numbers is to create a budget. When you create a budget, let your goals drive it. Your budget is not about restrictions. Instead, it’s about allowing your money to fit into your overall plan. Essentially, you are allowing money to help you do the work you want it to do so you can live the life you want. Some couples use apps to create budgets, while others prefer to work in a spreadsheet or keep a journal. Find the money management system that works for you.
Explore and Plan for Shared Goals
When you start a money conversation with your partner, it is helpful to frame it around shared goals. Adam says a lot of the shared goals he helps couples plan for involve significant life events. They might be thinking down the road to their retirement. Couples might also be thinking about buying a home or starting a family. When you dream together as a couple, there are very few limits to what you can do.
Something else that Adam points out is that it is worth exploring what goals you might be afraid to mention. He says that he works with couples who actually want a lot of goals that they don’t allow themselves to have. In fact, many people aren’t making the choices they want because of their finances.
People might feel that affording a wedding is off the table, so they don’t explore the possibility of marriage. The same might be true for having multiple children. Adam says it is vital to explore this because the more we desire our goals, the more we can execute on them.
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Address the Elephant in the Room
Student loans can definitely feel like the elephant in the room. Adam acknowledges that this topic probably isn’t first date material. Instead, he suggests waiting until there is a level of trust and safety in the relationship before diving into something this complex.
Still, discussing your student loans is essential conversation. The implications are not just financial. Student loan debt impacts many aspects of people’s lives. That is why it is important for couples to have these conversations sooner rather than later. That will allow you to devise a plan to combat the loans and decide if and how you are working on them together.
Become a Compassionate Listener
Another way to reduce money fights and marriage fights is to develop your compassionate listening skills. Adam emphasizes that listening is at the core of communication. Yet, we overlook this so often. When we reflect on our own communication skills, we likely reflect on how we speak. Adam encourages us to reflect on other aspects as well.
It is important to ask good questions and give good feedback. Compassionate listening helps you validate your partner’s feelings and experiences. It also builds trust over time and makes someone feel cared for. You don’t have to agree with your partner to stop money fights. Simply agreeing to put aside your own opinions to listen to your partner is often significant enough to reduce fighting about money and other conflicts.
The Signs of a Productive Money Conversation
How do you know if you are having a successful money conversation? You can have different money views than your partner and still consider your money conversation a success. Success is more than just the absence of money fights. Adam says that after the conversation, each person should feel good. This does not mean that you are in total agreement. Instead, it simply means that you are communicating in a healthy way and are choosing to act based on what feels fair.
When asked about how couples should manage their money together, Adam says there is no hard and fast rule. Instead, he says each couple should come up with a plan where both parties feel good about their money and feel understood. Recently, he says many of his clients focus on having a joint account for joint expenses. They also tend to choose to keep personal accounts as well.
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He often hears them cite that this method allows for feelings of solidarity and teamwork, while still allowing a level of autonomy and freedom. Nonetheless, Adam says it is important for each couple to determine what works best for them.
When you are having money conversations, it is important to remember that you are teammates. Adam says too often people forget that piece. Resist seeing your partner as the opposition. Instead, focus on sharing what you want to do and why.
Adam says that one helpful trick is simply about rephrasing. That means you no longer say, “I want to go on this trip, but my partner wants to save.” Rework that by saying, “I want to go on this trip, and my partner wants to save.” By replacing “but” with “and,” you re-frame the conversation. This change in wording allows you to remove the oppositional aspect and refocus on solutions.
How Marriage Counseling Can Help
Marriage counseling can help any couple. No matter the phase of your relationship, you can benefit from counseling. This is especially true in two instances. If you have some sort of important milestone on the horizon, counseling can help you get on the same page. If you are getting engaged, getting married, buying a house, or moving through any other big life event, counseling can help.
Additionally, if you notice that marriage fights or money fights are happening more frequently, counseling is worth exploring. Any time you sense a disconnect growing in your relationship, it is important to address it. Adam says that counseling can coach you through many difficult moments. Counselors can help model effective listening and communicating. Plus, they can foster a supportive environment that allows you to identify key values, priorities, and goals together. At its very essence, counseling is designed to help you build a stronger foundation for your partnership based on trust and communication.
Advice for Starting the Conversation Right
Whether you’ve already experienced money fights or you are simply trying to start that first big money conversation, Adam has advice for getting started the right way. Before you begin any conversation, you want to take a breath. This gives you time to check in with yourself. Ask yourself if you are committed to having the conversation. That way, you can articulate to your partner why you want to have the conversation.
At that point, it probably feels like you can dive in. Not so fast, says Adam.
Instead, he suggests asking your partner, “When is a good time to talk about ____?” No one likes to have big issues sprung on them. Using this phrasing will help your partner feel like this can be responsive, rather than defensive.
As you move through the conversation, make it a point to keep your commitment at the forefront. That means that you stay focused on your partnership and your commitment to one another. It’s easier said than done if you are on different pages, but it is essential to let your partner know you care about the future of the relationship.
Key Takeaways to Stop Money Fights
Deciding to have an important money conversation might be nerve-wracking at first. However, you can take steps with your partner to reduce money fights and have more productive conversations about money.
Make sure the lines of communication are open and focus on your goals, even if your financial personalities differ. By staying true to the heart of your relationship, you can come up with a plan to make your money work for you.
Do you and your spouse have money fights? How do you resolve them?
Please let us know in the comments below.
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I love the tip you gave of asking your spouse “When is a good time to talk about _____?” My husband gets into what we call “work mode.” When he’s in work mode, he has a hard time thinking about anything else – home, the kids, money, the house, etc. He comes off sounding annoyed whenever I try to start these conversations if he’s in the middle of a project or at work. Over the years I’ve come to realize that he’s not annoyed or angry; his brain is just screeching to a halt trying to shift gears into money mode. I think this tip will help me rest assured that the big issues WILL get discussed, and my husband will be able to address these issues when he is mentally able to do so.
This is such a good insight Jenni! I feel the same way sometimes. I get in ‘work mode’ and want to keep my concentration. Setting aside time to talk or scheduling it, helps a lot.