4 Money Fights Married Couples Have (And How to Avoid Them)

By Emily Guy Birken on 13 February 2018 0 comments

When a couple first gets married, while the newlywed glow is still bright enough for strangers to see, it can seem as if nothing can ever get in the way of true love.

But if you fast forward a few years, many couples will find that money has a seriously unpleasant effect on that love. Whether you are shouting at each other over a credit card bill, or living in chilly silence because of one spouse's financial decision, you may wonder why your love for each other is not enough to smooth over the jagged edges of your money disagreements. (See also: 8 Steps to a Blissful Matri-Money)

According to a 2014 poll by Money Magazine, money is the most common reason married couples fight, ahead of household chores, togetherness, sex, snoring, and what's for dinner. These financial fights often seem to follow similar patterns, no matter who the spouses are, how much they make, or where they live.

That means it's possible for married couples to anticipate common money fights, and avoid them altogether. Here's what you need to know about four of the most frequent money arguments, and how you and your sweetheart can avoid them.

1. Disagreements over spending

It's a tale as old as time. One of you is a spender, and the other one is a natural born saver. When the spender comes home with brand-new gadgets and gizmos galore, the saver is likely to blow a gasket. What ensues is an argument about who is a buzzkill and who is irresponsible.

How to avoid this argument

Many individuals make the mistake of avoiding this argument by simply not telling their spouses about their spending. Money Magazine's poll found that a full 22 percent of spouses have spent money that their partner doesn't know about. But while keeping your spending secret might keep the peace for the moment, such secrecy causes much bigger problems down the road.

Instead, couples should commit to having separate fun money funds. This is a great way for each of you to make purchases the other might see as unnecessary, without it becoming an issue.

As long as you and your partner can agree on a budget amount for important-to-me purchases, this strategy will allow you to buy stuff that matters to you without having to fight about it with your spouse. (See also: 5 Money Conversations Every Couple Should Have)

2. Power struggles over money

In many relationships, one partner will believe he or she has the last say on financial decisions. Often, this comes about because of who is the higher earner, although these types of power struggles can also be rooted in beliefs about who is better with money — either because of gender stereotypes or the couple's specific relationship history.

Unfortunately, these sorts of power struggles can really undermine the love between a married couple. When one partner wants to be the ultimate financial authority in the relationship, his or her actions can negate the equality between spouses, which can foster resentment and anger.

How to avoid this argument

It's important for spouses to recognize they are both on the same team when it comes to their money. To do that, they need to start viewing all income as "our money" and all decisions as "our decisions."

If the power struggle stems from the fact that one spouse brings in more money, one way to view things more equally is to sit down together and make a list of what you each do for the overall health of the relationship.

This is a peacekeeping tactic that many marriage counselors advise for dealing with housework squabbles, but it works just as well for dealing with money imbalances. Once the higher-earner sees that the other partner does all the grocery shopping or laundry or airport drop-offs, it can help to put the high income in perspective. The high-earner would be keeping less of their income if each of those nonfinancial contributions by the low-earner had to be contracted out.

If power struggles are rooted in a belief that one person is better with money, consider what would happen if either one of you died. If only one spouse takes care of the marital coffers, the other one will be vulnerable in the event of widowhood. Thinking through these kinds of worst-case scenarios can help spouses recognize the importance of each partner having financial responsibility and buy-in on financial decisions. (See also: The 7 Worst Money Mistakes Married People Make)

3. Reactions to risk

Opposites often attract, particularly when it comes to risk tolerance. Often, the risk-averse, better-safe-than-sorry type and the risk-loving adrenaline junkie fall for each other, because Mr. Safety grounds Ms. Risky while she helps him expand his horizons. Unfortunately, these love matches can cause friction when it comes to financial decisions.

For instance, one spouse may want to invest their savings into the business she is trying to get off the ground, while her husband would prefer to keep that money safe in the bank in case the business fails to launch. Such a couple might find themselves arguing over whether or not he believes in her, and whether or not she cares about his financial anxiety.

Even couples who are both on the same page when it comes to the relative importance of a steady paycheck can strongly disagree about how much risk they are willing to accept in their investments. If he wants to chase returns with every no-fail promise of a tin mine in Bolivia, while she is happier to leave it all in CDs, savings accounts, and maybe a bond or two, there will be some serious fights about the future of their money.

How to avoid this argument

The best way to calm the fears of a risk-averse spouse is to make sure there is an upper limit to the amount of money that will be "risked." For instance, an entrepreneurial spouse might promise to invest no more than 20 to 25 percent of their savings into the new business, which will give some room for growth while also providing the cushion that the other spouse needs to keep from breathing into a paper bag.

Similarly, having a plan of action for investments can help a couple navigate their differing risk tolerances. Such a plan could design asset allocation that will mitigate risk and encourage growth — and potentially leave a small percentage available for the more speculative investments that will please the risk-taker in the couple. (See also: 5 Painless Ways to Manage Money With Your Partner)

4. Disagreements over helping family

One of the toughest arguments between couples happens when a family member asks for money. Whether it's a one-time request because of a truly difficult situation, or it's a family member who regularly wants to borrow money from you, this can cause major stress for a couple.

Often, these types of fights go further than just disagreements about the money — they can become arguments about each other's families and each spouse's expectations of dealing with them. Many a spouse has spent a few nights on the couch because of a loan to a family member.

How to avoid this argument

The best way to avoid this kind of disagreement is to talk about it ahead of time. After you have been asked for money or have already given money to a family member is a bad time to hash out how you each feel about family loans. In particular, the issues you need to agree on are these:

  • Can you consider any money you give to family in need as a gift rather than a loan?

  • If it has to be a loan, can you agree to have a legal loan document written up to make sure you are reimbursed?

  • What is the maximum amount of money you are willing to give or loan to family in an emergency?

  • Is there a maximum number of times you are willing to help the same family member?

  • Are there nonfinancial ways you can offer to help if giving or loaning money is not in the cards?

Getting on the same page on these issues before a relative asks for money can help ensure that your bond with your spouse stays strong, no matter how often your shiftless cousin Lenny asks for a couple hundred dollars. (See also: The 16 Cardinal Rules of Loaning Money to Friends and Family)

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