If you find that you and your spouse argue a lot about money, the good news is that you aren’t unique. Approximately half of all divorces can be traced to money problems.
I am crazy in love with the woman I married thirty-two years ago. But, hooo-weee have we had some knock-down, drag-out fights. (OK, for the record, she has never knocked me down or dragged me out. That was just a figure of speech.)
As someone experienced with marital conflict, I can testify that (a) it’s normal; and (b) it doesn’t have to end up badly. But there are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to monetary marital melees:
1. Conflicts over money are really conflicts over priorities. You’re not getting your way, so you fight about it with that person who is pig-headedly standing in your way (see, I’m on your side). Since money is the key to getting many of the things we want in life, fighting over who gets the use of the keys is nearly inevitable. But, if you can identify what the issue behind the money is, you will take an important step towards finding a solution.
2. Winning isn’t always winning. Unfortunately, most married couples develop unhealthy conflict patterns early in their marriage. Someone wins, and someone withdraws. These roles rarely swap. A dominant husband may bark his wife into a corner, then wonder why she withdraws for days at a time. But domination is not a trait exclusive to the male of the species. I’ve seen quite a few lionesses that reigned supreme in most of their marital conflicts. What both sides must eventually admit is that this win/lose pattern is exhausting … and actually results in both sides losing.
3. Conflict isn’t fun, but silence is deadly. If you are a natural conflict avoider (as most of us are) you can make the mistake of thinking that conflict is the worst thing possible. It isn’t. When your spouse gets to the point that he or she will no longer engage in the conflict, you have someone who has given up. In this case, silence isn’t golden. It could be the sound of a relationship that has flat-lined.
4. Understand first, explain second. When you are having a conflict, the last thing you feel like doing is listening. Get over it. Listen hard to what your spouse is saying. Be able to repeat it back to her so that she knows you get it. Only then will she begin to
have the motivation to listen to you. She doesn’t need to understand you nearly so much as she needs to be heard by you.
5. Seek third party help when needed. Sometimes couples just get stuck. They may try the above principles and still not be able to arrive at a solution. When (not if) that happens, seek help from an agreed upon third party. This may be a mutual friend, spiritual advisor or a financial professional. Just keep in mind most of this will be about communicating effectively over values, rather than the finer points of a five-star mutual fund, so choose your counselor accordingly.
Don’t say you’ll never fight over finances. That’s an unrealistic ideal.
But if you’ll fight fair, your chances of finding a mutually agreeable solution (and then making up!) go way, way up.