Of all the things that can come between people, of all the reasons tensions flare and couples fight – from petty little things to major blowouts – one thing is at the center of more arguments than anything else:
More than in-laws, kids, who said what, who looked at who… Money is the thing that comes between people, and it isn’t hard to understand why.
We all stress about it at one time or another. Sometimes we don’t have enough, and sometimes we have “enough,” but not as much as we want. Even for the well to do, money can be a source of anxiety – or at the very least, a matter dealt with very seriously. Keeping track of accounts and bills is a complicated task for everyone, and for most people, financial jargon, taxes, assets, and the like are confusing – even cringe worthy – to navigate.
If it’s not the dollars themselves, we stress about the jobs we work to earn the money, the necessities that eat that money up, and as couples, we argue about where that money should be going.
To get a better understanding of how these fights happen, let’s take a quick look at a few of the major categories of conflict in this arena. These aren’t all encompassing, but are some of the more common scenarios that cause couples to argue about money. Let’s get them on the table, and then we’ll look at what to do about it.
Friends, Family, and Helping Others
While we might like to think that we’re all charitable and helpful, many fights about money happen when it comes to, well, giving it away to other people.
It could be a loan to a friend, helping a parent, giving a sibling a large gift, helping a close relative during tough times, or anything else of this nature.
It feels like the right thing to do, or you might feel obligated because of your own financial circumstances, but your spouse might feel differently (or see something about the situation you don’t).
If you and your spouse don’t share the same relationship dynamic with the person you’re helping, you might not see its importance (or that it’s a mistake) in the same light.
Power Makes People Tense
More and more commonly, both members of a couple are “breadwinners” and contribute the overall income, but this isn’t always the case. Or, for many couples, there’s a huge gap in wages, so one person is bringing in a significantly larger portion of the income than the other person.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like a problem, but it can be – even below the radar. The divide makes us a little uneasy because there’s some strange sense of “power” involved in producing the majority of the income (even if you don’t act like it).
This can make one member of the couple feel in control of the money, and the other like they have to get approval for any spending. It doesn’t usually play out to those extremes, but that underlying inequality can lead to some conflict.
Kids Cost Big Bucks
Having children is expensive – as most people are well aware – but managing those expenses can be a source of tension for many parents. Even for people considering having kids, the financial commitment is no doubt part of the conversation.
Whether it’s figuring out allowances, saving for college, what food to buy, what clothes to buy, picking up toys or special treats… The list of potential expenses is staggering. Any disagreement on what to get or how much to spend could lead to an argument, especially if making that decision also involves a cranky child.
All expenses aside, people simply think about money in different ways. This “financial personality” is going to have a pretty large impact on the way you deal with money in a general way. It might be lessons you learned when you were young, or simply the methods you’ve found that work for you, but people certainly have a range of approaches to money management.
Some people are savers; others are investors. Some people shop within strict parameters; others rack up the credit card bill to deal with down the line. Some live on a steady and carefully managed income, and others thrive in a “feast or famine” approach to finance.
If a couple is made up of clashing financial personalities, things can get a little messy.
Unfortunately, financial “baggage” is the norm today. From student loans to car payments, credit card debt to the mortgages, debt is just a part of life for many people. In a marriage though, some debts will be taken on as a couple, while others may still be lingering around from well before.
These debts, particularly the old ones, will be a drain on income that doesn’t seem to result in much tangible reward, and that simple fact can cause some stress – especially if money is already tight.
Yours vs. Mine
Most married couples end up combining finances, but this can lead to some murky territory for what “belongs” to you, your spouse, or both of you. This can be something major like a car, or something minor… Like who ate the last cupcake.
This division of ownership will rear its ugly head sometimes, even if you’ve agreed to share everything. It just happens as part of our own subjective impulses. It’s tough to divide everything right down the middle, and eventually things will tip one way or the other – and that can lead to conflict.
So, with all of these potential financial pitfalls, what can a couple do to minimize disagreements about money?
In a word: BUDGET.
With a robust budget, you have a system to fall back on. The key is to make your decisions together, and then STICK TO THEM!
This way, when disputes arise about what’s being spent where, you don’t have to make it about momentary opinions or personal feelings. Instead, you just refer back to the budget. If you didn’t account for it in your planning, then it’s likely an unnecessary expense.
The point is that you have an impartial “third party” in the form of the budget you agreed on. You just have to go back and compare the financial disagreement at hand to the blueprint you set out for your joint finances. Stick to the plan, and it will resolve arguments for you!
Money is going to be a little different for every couple, but the need to manage it effectively is the same, no matter what your tax bracket might be. Avoid many of the problems couples face by taking the financial guesswork out of your day-to-day lives. Make a budget and stick to it.