How to Navigate 3 Common Money Arguments With Your Significant Other

By Emily Guy Birken on 1 April 2015 0 comments

Think about your last big argument with your sweetheart. You know the one — the knock-down, drag-out "heated discussion" that made you wonder if you or your partner (or both of you) were crazy, because there was simply no consensus to be had.

Chances are that argument was about money.

According to a 2012 survey by the American Institute of CPAs, money is the most common reason married couples fight, ahead of children, household chores, work, and friends. Unfortunately, fighting about money on a regular basis also indicates a higher chance of divorce.

But money arguments do not have to be frequent or vicious, as long as you are willing to recognize that any conversation about money is about much more than just little green pieces of paper. (See also: 8 Steps to a Blissful Matri-Money)

Here are three of the most common money arguments couples have, and how you can navigate them without forgetting what you like about each other.

1. You Spent HOW Much?

This might sound like a classic spender versus saver argument — you are committed to getting out of debt and your spouse is careless with money, for instance. But whether you are a natural spender or a natural saver, it's likely that you and your partner have each been on both sides of this argument.

For example, maybe you regularly spend extra money on your favorite microbrews, which your partner thinks taste about the same as Budweiser. Their complaints about this expense can feel pretty rich to you, considering the fact that they spend what seems like the GDP of a small nation on clothes each year.

The disconnect that you both feel about these spending decisions arises because the argument is not about money per se, but about values.

Your partner values looking fashionable and thinks it's a waste of money to buy expensive beverages. And you might think buying new clothes more often than once a decade is extravagant, but feel that life is far too short to drink terrible beer.

The Fix: Have Separate Important-to-Me Funds

Many marriage and finance experts recommend that spouses each get separate "fun money" to use as they please. This is a great way for each of you to make purchases the other might see as a completely insane, 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 continue to support your values without having to fight for them financially.

2. It's MY Money!

It's rare for couples to each make the exact same amount of money, and differing income levels can create power imbalances in a relationship. The individual who makes more money might want to have more control over financial decisions, and the lower-earner might feel resentful and excluded.

As with the previous argument, this disagreement is not really about money, but about relationship contributions. Our society values money far more than other types of contributions, which means we can easily fall into the trap of believing that the higher-earner in a relationship makes a bigger contribution and deserves more say in how communal money is spent.

The Fix: Make a List of Your Contributions to the Relationship

Ultimately, it's important for partners to view all income as "our money" (with some allotted for each spouse to use as he or she pleases, as outlined above). If either of you have trouble simply accepting that fact, then it's time 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 (or whatever), it can help to put the high income in perspective. The high-earner would be keeping less of their income if each of those non-financial contributions by the low-earner had to be contracted out.

3. Why Won't You Fund Your 401(k), Track Spending, Etc.?

Opposites attract, and that's certainly true when it comes to money philosophies. Spendthrifts and skinflints can each appreciate the other's financial qualities, because they balance out their own.

But living with your financial opposite can also be maddening. The spender might feel nagged and constricted by the saver's financial expectations, and the saver might be overwhelmed by the spender's use of money. In particular, it can be really tough for the saver to see the spender neglect financial chores that seem essential.

The Fix: Delegate and Communicate

The real issue behind this argument is the fact that neither partner can get the other to view money in the same way they do. The spender will never understand the saver's anxiety about finances, and the saver will never understand how the spender can enjoy making purchases when there are unfunded retirement accounts to worry about.

The best way to handle this is to allow one partner (the saver) to be the person in charge of finances. This may seem like an odd suggestion, considering the fact that most marriage advice stresses the importance of sharing. However, delegating tasks can often make for a happier partnership, since the person who cares more about the specifics of finances can focus on them, while the more carefree partner does not feel nagged or infantilized.

But simply delegating finances to one individual is not enough to avoid this particular fight. It's also important to regularly talk to each other about the financial state of the union. This will ensure that both partners are on the same page and understand what is happening with their money, and it will also provide the non-finance partner the information necessary to take over in case something happens to the current family CFO.

Living in Financial Harmony

Money is the source of a great deal of stress and fighting because it represents so much more than just a way to pay for things. Nipping big money fights in the bud is not easy, but starting from a place of respect for your partner and his or her values, the non-financial contributions you each make, and the strengths you each bring to the table, can help you to navigate solutions to even the thorniest of money arguments.

How do you and your SO navigate the dangerous waters of money?

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