Did you know that money-related fights are one of the most accurate predictors of divorce in married couples? One Utah State University study published in 2009 found that out of 2,800 couples, those who fight about money once a week were more than 30 percent more likely to divorce compared to couples who disagreed over finances only a few times a month.
But don't hire a divorce attorney yet. Even if you and your partner frequently bicker about finances, you can take these five steps to stop the money fights forever.
1. Be completely honest.
Don't keep money secrets from your spouse. Whether you have a hidden credit card, an abysmal credit score or bags from a recent shopping spree stashed in the back of the closet, it's time to come clean.
Being honest – especially about major spending mistakes or large purchases – can be tough. But if you're not honest, those money fights will just keep happening.
Before laying your souls bare, you and your partner should agree to stay calm, leave accusations at the door and work through financial problems together. Then, each person should pull a copy of their credit report, as well as recent statements for all bank accounts, so that you can each have a good, hard look at where you are financially.
2. Create a budget together.
Once you've aired out any skeletons in the closet, it's time to get on the same page. Your family budget doesn't have to be a super detailed spreadsheet that limits your spending as much as possible. It's simply a spending plan for the coming month (or two weeks, depending on your preferences) that you can both agree to stick with.
Your budget can be as detailed or as broad as you like, but you should, at the very least, set limits for any spending areas that are a problem for one or both partners. Spending way too much dining out each month? Set a restaurant budget, and stick to it. Spending more than necessary on new clothes or other personal items? Set a personal budget, and stick to that, too.
Creating your first budget together can be stressful and tense, especially when you disagree. But if you can agree to the end goal – spending less than you make – you can work through disagreements to come up with a reasonable budget.
3. Hold weekly budget meetings.
Once you have agreed to a budget, implement weekly budget meetings. These meetings should take place when you're not too tired or distracted, and they should become a routine part of your life.
Budget meetings don't have to take hours. They're simply a time to check in on your spending and to see if you – as a couple – are staying on track. You can also use these meetings to adjust your budget as needed and to talk about any financial concerns you may have.
Budget meetings don't make for the most exciting date night, but they can help head off financial fights before they begin. By talking about money matters regularly when you're relaxed and not distracted, you avoid those fights that pop up when a financial crisis occurs.
4. Plan for personal spending.
It's important to realize that in a relationship, money often represents power, so each spouse needs to feel that he or she has some power over joint funds. When one spouse does all the budgeting and all the spending, the other is likely to feel disenfranchised and frustrated.
While a joint budget and regular budget meetings can help eliminate this issue, one other step – allowing for personal spending – also helps ensure that both partners have financial power in the relationship.
Together, create a plan that allows each partner some spending leeway. Some couples agree that each spouse can make a purchase of up to $X without consulting the other. Other couples institute an allowance system, in which each partner gets a set amount of money to spend each month, no questions asked. Either option gives both parties financial power and the freedom to spend money on hobbies, entertainment or personal items.
5. Tackle money goals as a team.
The final step in stopping all your money fights is to work toward financial goals together. This may mean starting an investment account together, saving for a rainy day or paying off debt.
Whatever your financial goals, working toward them together fosters a sense of teamwork in your marriage. This teamwork can help you nip financial fights in the bud and may even spill over into other areas of your marriage.
Abby Hayes is freelance blogger and journalist who writes about personal finance for the Dough Roller.