How to handle common money fights before they ruin your relationship
If you and your partner fight about money, you’re not alone. And if most of your money squabbles are about financial management issues like how much to spend and how much to save, you’re right in line with the majority of married couples.
That said, there’s no reason to let money fights ruin your relationship. Each of the five most common money issues couples face has an easy and practical solution, and addressing these problems while they’re small can help you prevent them from getting so large that they overwhelm your partnership.
That’s why we asked two financial relationship experts to help us solve some of the biggest arguments about money facing couples today — and we hope their advice will help you as well.
In this article:
If you and your partner don’t share the same financial goals, you’re likely to have a few money-related arguments, which means you’re also more likely to have the same argument over and over again.
“One partner may wish to save for a comfortable retirement,” says Amy Colton, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) and family law mediator who founded Your Divorce Made Simple, “while the other might prioritize immediate expenses or lifestyle upgrades, leading to disagreement.”
Even when two people share a financial goal — such as building generational wealth — they may disagree on how to achieve it.
“One partner might want the illusion of wealth, the luxury car or purse, or the fancy vacations plastered on social networking,” says Michele Paiva, a licensed therapist specializing in financial therapy who offers advice and solutions at The Finance Therapist. “The other might enjoy a quieter wealth, where they are saving for the future, a home, or retirement. These goals will almost always clash.”
Colton and Paiva agree that couples can solve these issues by communicating honestly about their financial goals and their financial values.
“Explore goals with a heart-to-heart conversation or series of talks,” Paiva says. “Revisit this at least annually or every six months. Values and goals can evolve and change; always make sure you are growing together, not apart, and your assets are growing in the right direction. Make sure these conversations end in compromise, not a win-lose mindset.”
If you’re having trouble finding a solution that works for both of you, it might be time to get the professionals involved. “Couples can work with a financial advisor to create a mutually agreed-upon plan that balances both partners’ goals and priorities,” says Colton.
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Even if you and your partner are on the same page with your financial goals, you may disagree on how to manage — and pay off — your outstanding debt.
“We all know that debt causes stress,” Paiva says. “But did you know that most debt causes ongoing crises that can result in chronic trauma or health challenges?”
Since debt can affect your mental health as well as your financial health, it’s important to resolve the metaconflicts around debt accumulation and debt repayment as quickly as possible.
“Debt isn’t just about paying off old bills,” Paiva explains. “The resentment of lost money and feeling stressed with your partner can fester and surface in many ways—and releasing this negativity can increase financial intimacy and strengthen the bonds of the relationship.”
Colton agrees—and suggests that couples work together to solve their debt problem, even if the majority of the debt was brought into the relationship by a single person. “Openly discuss each person’s debts and develop a systematic debt repayment plan,” she says. “Be supportive and understand that the debt affects both partners equally. Avoid blame, and focus on the solution.”
If one partner earns significantly more than the other, they may assume that they have more say over how their shared money is spent. Or they may prefer to keep their money for themselves, allowing themselves privileges and discretionary purchases that are not available to the other person in the relationship.
Both of these so-called solutions are likely to lead to conflict.
“A significant income disparity between partners can lead to power imbalances or feelings of inadequacy or dependency,” says Colton. “Ensure that both partners have an equal say in financial decisions regardless of income disparity.”
If you and your spouse prefer to keep your finances separate, the best practice is to contribute proportionally to a shared account. “Consider joint accounts for household expenses while maintaining separate accounts for personal spending,” Colton advises.
That said, you shouldn’t find yourself in a situation where one half of your partnership can buy whatever they want and the other half has to count every penny. If only one of you can afford recreational purchases — or if only one of you can cover personal expenses like haircuts and new clothing — you may need to re-think the amount of money each of you is contributing to the shared account.
Spouses should feel like they’re able to live the same lifestyle, after all. And they should also feel like they have the freedom to make the occasional impulse buy without consulting the other.
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Partners who share a bank account may quickly discover that they have very different spending habits. “Excessive spending or extreme frugality can both cause friction,” Colton explains.
Paiva agrees. “Each partner has to look at their spending as a cognitive bias.” Saving is not necessarily more correct than splurging, especially if the frugal partner wants to prevent the household from enjoying experiences like vacations or celebrations. That said, spending money to excess can cause problems with monthly bills, and spending too much today can make it harder to meet the goals of tomorrow.
That’s why Colton and Paiva suggest building a household budget that allows both partners to set aside money for essential spending, discretionary spending and long-term savings goals. “Establish a budget that allocates funds for both savings and discretionary spending,” Colton advises. “Allow each partner some financial autonomy within the agreed-upon budget to prevent feelings of restriction or control.”
Once you and your partner understand where you want your money to go, you’re more likely to take the steps you need to get there. “The budget is a boundary, not a punishment,” says Paiva. It’s also a great way to stop disagreements about overspending or underspending.
The last major financial issue to affect married couples is financial infidelity. When one partner deliberately ignores the household budget, takes on extra debt or makes secret purchases that only benefit themselves, the other partner can easily feel betrayed — and angry.
“Keeping financial secrets, like hidden debts or purchases, can lead to a breakdown in trust,” says Colton.
This breakdown becomes even more complicated when the hidden spending is related to a larger issue like addiction or gambling. “Some types of financial infidelity require help from a mental health professional,” Paiva says. “People may spend because they feel ashamed, or because they are working through trauma.”
Partners may also resort to financial infidelity when they feel overly controlled in the household. “Secret spending is often related to quiet resentment,” Paiva explains. If you and your partner are dealing with this kind of relationship issue, solving your problem may require sustained honest conversation—from a place of love, not a place of blame—and a willingness to change.
“The key to resolving financial disputes lies in open communication, empathy, and compromise,” Colton told us. “Regularly review finances together and honestly disclose all financial information. Consider using financial apps that allow both partners to easily monitor accounts and expenses.”
The more you and your partner work together, the less likely you are to grow apart — and the better you’ll get at solving common money problems and sharing a stronger financial future.
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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our editorial policy
Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.
Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
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