Finances, perhaps more than any other topic, are at the center of many, many marital conflicts. We argue over how much is being spent, where it’s being spent, who’s earning what, how much things cost, and on and on…
It makes perfect sense why we tend to be so sensitive about money – we work hard for it, and for most of us, it’s something of a constant concern. Even for some of the wealthiest among us, bills have to be paid, houses and cars need to be maintained, and all the while, we’re spending money on food, clothes, school, things for the kids… And hopefully a little bit of fun every once in a while.
With all that in mind, though, it isn’t hard to see why we feel pressure related to the state of their family finances. It’s even easier to see how this pressure can lead to trouble when the finances are shared between two people – there are decisions being made by one party, but not necessarily “cleared” by the other. Even if your spouse is the sole breadwinner, you’ve got financial needs and opinions too – and disagreements can feel catastrophic.
It’s more likely that you’re both working and contributing to family income, and even with such an arrangement, things are never quite “equally divided” – and well, because you’re two different people, you’re not always going to see eye to eye about what’s worth buying, what’s too expensive, or what the family can afford. Add to that the fact that we all have our own interests and opinions, and are often drawn to the things we like (even if we can’t really afford them), and you’re looking at a recipe for a lot of arguing about money.
And here’s the real problem: if you’re fighting about money and don’t take any steps to change the way you deal with your finances, your marriage will continue to unravel because of resentment and anger – all tied these financial arguments.
So, what can you do?
Make A Marriage Plan
As with any other problems in your marriage – financial disagreements won’t go away on their own. You and your spouse need to address them head on, and the best way to do that is to make a plan you can both agree on, then fall back to if and when disagreements arise.
First, establish the GOAL. Is too much spending the problem? Do you need to find ways to live more within your combined means? Or, is it that you’ve built a lifestyle that requires one or both you to stick with a job you hate? Is there resentment because one of you is working, and the other is doing most of the spending?
Be honest with each other about what’s bothering you, and create a picture of what YOUR ideal situation would like. Once you’ve both done that, bring them together and look for the common ground. This can start as a vague “vision” for how you want your marriage to be in one year, five years, ten years, and so on… But then start to dig into the specifics.
Use that vision to create a budget – even if it takes some negotiation – and agree to stick to it for a set period of time. You can make joint decisions about how much is to be spent on groceries, non-essential bills, entertainment, clothes, and so on… And if there’s ever a discrepancy, you can refer back to the budget that you BOTH agreed on.
Think of your budget as a referee for your financial arguments. You already planned out all the “rules” – the budget is just there to “enforce” them. You don’t have to entirely convince each other change opinions, but since your budget will likely reflect what each of you finds important, you may start to see your family’s finances in a new light after a few months with your agreed upon budget. It moves both of you closer to a place of mutual understanding – with the safety net of your budget to turn to if you start falling back into old spending habits.
Now, a budget is only going to work if you can get on the same page long enough to make one – and if you have the follow-through to stick to it! Talk about what you’re both earning, what you like to spend extra money on, and perhaps most importantly, the bare essentials that you simply have to pay for.
Sometimes financial arguments are a simple case of miscommunication or misunderstanding. Other times, they can be a product of compulsive or inconsiderate behavior. The first step to resolving either scenario is to communicate – calmly and with the intent to listen to your spouse – about why you aren’t seeing eye to eye.
Make a budget and take this nasty cause of disagreements out of your day-to-day – it’s doing more damage to your relationship than you know.