This is the first article in our two-part series on dealing with finances with your significant other. For the next installment, check out “Love and Money: Making it Work.”
Sound familiar? If you’ve combined finances with your loved one, it probably does—unfortunately, money is a common cause of relationship angst. But if you find yourself constantly quibbling, it’s time to do something about it before the disagreement goes too far. Couples who consistently fight over finances are 30% more likely to split than those who claim they do once in a while, according to Jeffrey Dew at Utah State University. And finance disagreements are the number one cause of divorce.
The good news is, love and money can get along! The first step to making it work is understanding what’s really behind our financial feuds. From my experience working with couples, here’s a closer look at the major reasons we’re bound for financial disagreement.
You’re Not Truly Honest
Ever left your mountain of shopping bags in the car so that you can sneak the new shoes in later, when your significant other’s not home? You’re not alone: According to an American Express Spending & Saving Tracker survey, 80% of couples keep secrets from the other about money.
Why do we cover up our spending sprees and money woes? For one, it’s easy—with online banking and multiple credit cards, no one has to know about your last trip to Nordstrom. And with increasing pressures—whether it’s a lack of job security or housing hassles or just overall economic angst—why not keep the peace by not bringing up every little transaction?
Well, because being sneaky doesn’t help your relationship, either. And it’s a downward spiral—once unhealthy money habits become part of our routine, they’re difficult to change. So be honest with your partner about money. That doesn’t have to mean calling home before you snag that dress off the sale rack, but you shouldn’t be lying or hiding anything, either.
It’s Not Really About Money
In relationships, the event that triggers a fight isn’t usually the real issue—what’s really wrong is something that’s been brewing for a while. Same goes for money squabbles—they’re not usually about dollars and cents, but rather about the broader issues in our relationships that keep us from seeing eye-to-eye fiscally. According to Betsey Stevenson, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, “people are not really fighting over money, they’re fighting over an allocation of money.” Your recurring argument could be an issue of mismatched goals or priorities, or a lack of control over how money is spent.
Next time you fight about a purchase, take a minute to think about the underlying issues, and address those first. What are you really upset about?
For instance—let’s say your boyfriend or husband buys the new LED 70” flat screen TV without consulting you. You might not be upset about the actual purchase of the TV—who wouldn’t want a bigger screen, right? What’s upsetting you is that, if given a choice, you would have earmarked the money for something else (the vacation you’ve always wanted to take). It’s not really about the TV, it’s about the difference in priorities and wanting equal say in your shared finances. If you start the conversation there, it’ll be a whole lot more productive than, “I just can’t believe you spent that much money on a TV!”
You’re on Different Pages
When it comes to money, men think big, whereas women tend to focus on smaller, daily transactions. And even beyond that difference, each of us has a money “type,” a way we look at and approach our finances. But most of us don’t know our own money type—and the likelihood of recognizing our partner’s is even lower. But not understanding each other is bound to lead to differences.
Sit down with your partner and take this Money Quiz, developed by renowned money therapist Olivia Mellon, to find out your unique approaches to money—whether you’re a Hoarder, Spender, Money Monk, Avoider, or Amasser.
When you’ve identified your money types, you can better recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each, says Lora Sasiela, Financial Therapist and Founder of FinanciallySmitten.com. That way, when working together on your finances, you’ll understand each other’s goals and approach, which “makes financial conversations and decision-making that much smoother and more productive.”
Once you see the underlying causes of your and your partner’s money issues, the next step is to learn how to overcome them and communicate better. Check out the next installment of “Simply Money”—practical tips and fun suggestions on how to start talking money with your honey.