Marriage 911: What Do You Do When You Don't Agree on Money?

couple working on their billsWe all know there is a lot of conflicting marriage advice out there (e.g., never go to bed angry vs. pushing for resolution may make matters even worse). But most experts seem to be on the same page about one thing: Arguments about money are, unquestionably, the top predictor of divorce.

It's no surprise, considering that when we disagree over finances, we're not disagreeing over only cold, hard cash. "Money and how you spend it is a reflection of what you value," explains money management and frugal living expert Mark Greutman of MarkandLaurenG.com.

So, if you tend to value that annual beach vacation, and your husband is a bigger fan of putting money away for a rainy day, aggravation on both sides is understandable. But it doesn't mean your relationship is a lost cause.

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We asked finance and relationship experts to share the steps couples who are polar opposites when it comes to saving vs. spending can take toward strengthening their marriage. And we'd all do well to follow their advice!

1. Communicate. "A lack of communication is the biggest mistake I see when it comes to couples handling money," notes financial coach Chris Hogan, who works with Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show. "This includes having separate bank accounts, hiding purchases, and simply not talking about your finances."

What's not being said can actually end up triggering even more anxiety and resentment than hashing out your differences might. So, Hogan suggests setting up a regular budget meeting. "This may sound painful for some couples," admits Hogan. "But once you and your spouse begin to communicate, you’ll find a sense of peace in your marriage."

Greutman, who sits down monthly with his wife Lauren, a budgeting blogger at I Am That Lady, agrees. "When we do our budget every month, it's about what we want to do that's important to us in the upcoming months," he says. "It's a source of bonding for us."

2. Give one another a say. It can be almost too easy for the spouse who is more of a spender to end up feeling like they're always wrong and irresponsible. In turn, they may throw their hands up and allow the saver to do all the decision-making. Sure, it can happen in the reverse, as well, where the spender is calling all the shots. But neither should be the case.

"When one party is making decisions the other doesn’t agree with, it causes frustrations and fights," says Hogan. "If you aren’t working together, it’s almost impossible to win with your money." Not to mention in your marriage.

Both spouses need to be allowed to make decisions related to the budget and big ticket items. "There will be times when you have to compromise about where your money is going," says Hogan. "If a vacation is important to your spouse, and you can afford it, find other areas where you can cut back. Marriage is about compromise, and that includes finances."

3. Build in wiggle room. As committed as you and your spouse both may be to your marriage, and to working as a team, we all want to maintain a certain level of autonomy -- especially when it comes to our hard-earned dough.

"Designate joint accounts and separate accounts," recommends Laurie Puhn, JD, couples mediator, relationship communication expert, and author of Fight Less, Love More. "And find ways to give yourselves a sense of freedom." For example, the saver might say to the spender, "I know you don't like coming to me for agreement or approval for purchases, so let's figure out a reasonable way that there is some access to funds so you don't have to do that."

4. Try not to point fingers. As important as it is to discuss money matters, when and how you communicate is just as crucial. "Couples [may] use [a money discussion] as a ground on which to fight the battle of who is selfish, who is the martyr, who cares about who, and so on," warns Jeanette Raymond, PhD, couples therapist and author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t! "It's important that they deal with these issues when they feel small but irritating. Otherwise, the issues build up, and couples often use money as the justification for airing their anger and resentment."

5. Don't compare your situation to that of other couples. Trying to "keep up with the Joneses" or whoever that other couple is who seems to have it all is a recipe for trouble. And whether you're struggling with the best ways to pay off debt, save for kids' college, or come up with a down-payment for a house, the plan needs to be driven by you and your spouse alone.

"You can't base your decision on what your neighbors are doing," explains Puhn. "You are married to your own mate, and you have to figure out what works for you."

6. Make sure you both have all the nitty-gritty details. "I recommend knowing whether you have asymmetric information in your conversation," says Puhn. In other words, both partners should be privy to all the same information -- credit card bills, total take-home pay, investment statements, etc. Not having that is often a cause of argument, warns Puhn.

While conflicts involving money and having opposite approaches can feel overwhelming and possibly even lead to panic over the state of your marital union, the fact is Hogan says he finds that "in each couple, there is a spender and saver."

"But instead of letting your differences tear you apart when it comes to money, let them bring you together," he advises. "Savers need a spender in their lives so they have a little fun. Spenders need savers in their lives so they actually have some money. Recognize that you and your spouse aren't alike when it comes to money -- and utilize each of your strengths!"

How do you and your spouse handle your differences when it comes to money?


Image via iStock.com/AndreyPopov

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