There are many reasons that married couples argue. Not surprisingly, the number one reason is money. Indeed, even when people have a strong, stable relationship - and regardless of how much money they have - money is still often a source of conflict. These arguments have detrimental results. Research from Utah State University finds that disagreements over money are the single best indicator of divorce.
So while there are many steps you can take to improve your marriage or keep it strong, one of the best is to figure out how to talk about money with your spouse. Unfortunately, doing so is not easy because discussing money makes people uncomfortable. After all, as we're growing up, most people learn not to talk about money instead of how to talk about it.
But, if you figure out how to talk about money, it pays dividends. First of all, it means you won't waste energy arguing over what each of you is spending, saving or giving. Or, if you're not having out-and-out arguments, it means minimizing those slights that are under the surface; maybe you never say anything but get upset when your spouse has an expensive lunch with friends or pays bills late. Second, when couples can talk about money, they manage their finances better. Maybe that means creating a spending or savings plan or finally making an appointment to see an investment advisor. Third, if you can figure out how to relate to your partner about money, you will often discover that you can relate better around a variety of other issues like planning a vacation or raising your children.
Yes, talking about money can seem scary and difficult - but it doesn't have to be. Here are eight tips to help you start that conversation:
- Just do it. Start by acknowledging to your spouse that talking about money can feel awkward, but it builds trust and lays a stronger foundation for your relationship. When getting started, give yourself the advantage of a time and place where you can relax; planning a quiet evening over coffee is a much better start than right after fighting about the credit card bill.
- Reminisce. An easy way to begin is to just share your memories. Remember the first time you bought something with your own money? What did you buy? How did you get the money? A simple conversation like this proves that you can talk about money in a constructive way. Some other questions to try: What was your first job and what did you do with your money? How did you get money as a child and a teen? What did you learn from your religion about money? When you were a kid, did you think you were richer or poorer than your friends or relatives?
- Think family. Growing up, how was money talked about in your home? Who paid the bills? How were big financial decisions made? If there were arguments about money, what caused them and how were you involved? How would you know when your parents disagreed about money?
- Look around. Did your immediate family seem to have a different lifestyle or values than your extended family or other people in your neighborhood or community? Did they encourage you to fit in? Did they push you to get more education? Are your lifestyle and values now in sync with your parents, siblings and old friends?
- Enjoy life. How did you spend your money for fun in the past? What have you done for fun and pure enjoyment that doesn't cost a penny? In the future, how do you see spending money on entertainment, fun and recreational activities?
- Share the past. How would you describe your financial past? Do you have a history of saving, investing or going into debt? Have you ever declared bankruptcy or had major credit card debt? Did you save up for big ticket items or pay them off over time? How do you handle money differently today versus in the past?
- Clarify expectations. How do you both define what it would take for you to feel financially secure? How do you both feel about giving to your church, charities or to help friends and family? How much debt are each of you comfortable having month-to-month? What lifestyle do both of you project having in five years?
- Have a system. How do you manage money as a couple? Do you consciously divide up which bills you pay and who handles which investments? Do you both understand your daily and monthly expenses - such as groceries and babysitting - or does one of you really only worry about the mortgage and car payments? How do you divide up your income and expenses? How do you determine what money is discretionary and what's the maximum you would spend without talking to your spouse first?
Originally posted March 12, 2010
An expert on the psychology of money and a popular speaker on the topic, Syble Solomon won the Smart Marriages Impact Award from the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in 2009 and was formerly named Educator of the Year by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. Her Money Habitudes™ cards help people start the conversation about money and are often used in financial and relationship skills programs including premarital counseling and marriage enrichment.