5 Common Fights About Money & How to Resolve Them

couple laptopWhen it comes to long-term relationships, there are two kinds of couples: those who have already fought about money, and those who will. When it comes to money, some conflict and negotiation within a relationship is normal, but the scary truth is that the regularity of your money fights can also be a divorce predictor.


The good news is that there are ways to resolve the most common money fights, and they DON'T involve getting a divorce attorney. We asked some financial experts -- including a financial adviser, a couple's money coach, and a therapist -- to weigh in on what the most common financial fights are and how to solve them.

1. The Financial Secrets fight: According to financial adviser Paul Archambeau of North Star Resource Group in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a startlingly high percentage of couples he works with have money secrets from each other. After describing how awkward it is to be in the room when someone finds out that he or she has way more debt than he or she knew about, Archambeau notes that he is a "big believer in full disclosure."

The solution: When it comes to shared finances, secrets are deadly. To avoid this fight, couples need to commit to financial openness. This openness should include sharing credit reports with each other, committing to a monthly review of financial documents/account balances, and making sure that both partners know basic facts about your joint financial life like debt balances, monthly income, and passwords to all joint accounts.

2. The Unequal Division of Labor fight: Many couples fall into one of two roles when it comes to their money relationship. Archambeau describes these roles as "the banker and the clueless." In these relationships, one person does all the day-to-day work of managing the money and, he notes, usually ends up doing the bulk of the worrying too. At some point, this unequal division of labor leads to stress and conflict for many couples.

The solution: Financial coach Ann B. Hutchins, MBA, believes that couples need to "be willing to do the work" together when it comes to getting your finances on the right track. To make sure that the work and worry of dealing with money is being shared, Hutchins recommends that couples "form an agreement for how they're going to talk about money" and agree to having specific times set up in advance so nobody is blindsided by the conversation. Knowing that there is a scheduled time to talk about money-related topics takes the pressure off the banker in the relationship because then that person knows he or she will have a chance to share updates about the money situation.

More from The Stir: A Good Fight Is What Every Marriage Needs

3. The Spender vs. Saver fight: "Everybody comes to their own relationship with their own money story," says Hutchins, and many times that story is one of being a "saver" or a "spender." When these two types get together, conflict is almost inevitable.

The solution: Hutchins recommends that couples who are fighting about spending versus savings first STOP talking about money. Instead, you need to focus on values. What do both of you value? What kind of life do you want for yourselves and your children? The key is to get to a place where, she says, you are focused on "aligning your spending with what's important to you." Once you've identified what is most important to you, there can be space for compromise. A spender might better understand how important security is to the saver, and the saver might come to understand why spending money on experiences like travel is so important to his or her spending partner.

4. The Kids and Money fight: Let's face it, children are expensive, and it can be easy for couples to fall into conflict about how much to spend on things related to the kids. Do they need the latest and greatest phones and to go to camp or is it hand-me-downs and staycations? This is another place where values play a big role, according to Hutchins: "Spending represents how you want your kids to grow up" more than it represents how you want to spend your money.

The solution: Archambeau first reminds us that we need to have a will in place so that the long-term questions of how they'll be taken care of in an emergency are addressed. Beyond that, family counselor Kelly Schwanbeck Weber recommends that couples start by setting a time to talk about this issue when there isn't an immediate conflict. Instead, focus first on some big-picture questions about what are the values you want your children to learn about money -- and then determine how your spending on them reflects that.

5. Debt fights: In our culture, it can be too easy to ignore that we have a fixed amount of money and that limited funds means making trade-offs. Hutchins notes that we "have instruments (credit cards, etc.) that allow us to not have to think about the trade-offs" until we are deep in debt and starting to panic. Couples who carry debt face high levels of stress, which can lead to increased fighting.

The solution: When it comes to getting out of debt, knowledge is power. Couples must first start by making sure they know all the facts of their financial situation. Write down all forms of debt, including balances owed and interest rates, so you "make it tangible," according to Hutchins. Then work together to create a debt reduction plan, something that a financial adviser might be able to assist with if you are completely overwhelmed. Once you've created the plan, all of our experts stress the importance of continued conversations and financial openness. Remember that getting out of debt is a journey, not a single decision.


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