How Not to Fight Over Money

If you and your significant other aren’t financially compatible, it can put a major strain on your relationship and even lead to a breakup. How do you deal with that?

It’s very difficult for two people to run a household when their attitudes toward money clash. To avoid heartbreaking conflicts, you need to communicate with your partner about money and understand your partner’s behavior.

When the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants polled cohabitating and married couples in the U.S., 27% percent said that disagreements over money were more likely to escalate into arguments over children, chores, work and friends. A 2011 study by Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University found that married couples who disagreed about money once a week were twice as likely to divorce as those who disagreed less than once a month.

As a financial advisor, I’ve seen this time and again. These situations can be quite painful.

So why are tightwads and spendthrifts attracted to each other? According to studies cited in this entertaining New York Times article, it may be as simple as opposites attracting one another.

Turns out, in the early stages of courtship, many of us find our financial opposite’s behavior intoxicating. Like moths to a flame, we’re drawn to the very behavior we resist in ourselves. Alas, when the novelty wears off, our opposing financial beliefs can lead to a volcanic situation on the home front. 

For many of us, money represents and stirs up some of our deepest desires for love, power, control and freedom. If you are in this situation, how do you stop money arguments from ruining your relationship? Here are four simple steps to help increase the financial harmony in your household.

  1. Communicate. The one thing virtually all researchers agree on for creating a harmonious financial life as a couple is the vital importance of communication. In the book Get Financially Naked, my co-author and I suggest using a financial compatibility quiz to soften the mood and start the money conversation.
  2. Look for patterns. Recognizing that spending and saving patterns are connected to issues around identity, worth and personal fulfillment can help us to cultivate empathy for our financial opposite – and for our own questionable behavior. Do you save every penny and invest too conservatively out of fear? Or are you overspending and neglecting long-term goals because you are somehow unsatisfied? What are the roots of these feelings that lead to your financial attitudes?
  3. Budget. The key is to find ways to meet each of your needs within a healthy budget. Bringing in an outside financial advisor to help you define and implement your goals as a couple can also help you find balance in your money life.
  4. Dream and plan together. In his classic book, Smart Couples Finish Rich, author and financial advisor David Bach recommends that couples map out their life dreams together and outline the steps they need to take to sustain those ideals.

Take this issue on proactively. Rather than butting heads, empathizing with and listening to your partner helps you turn money from a source of marital strife to a shared path toward greater financial freedom and joy.

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Manisha Thakor is the CEO and founder of 
MoneyZen Wealth Management in Santa Fe, N.M. – an independent boutique advisory firm focusing on the needs of high net worth women and families. Manisha regularly shares her financial insights on her blog, and her work has been featured in a wide range of media outlets includingThe Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, MORE and Glamour. She is the author of two personal finance books aimed at women, and often appears as a guest on national television. Manisha earned her MBA from Harvard Business School, her BA from Wellesley College and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.
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