Are you fighting with your spouse over money? If so, you could be doing more damage than you realize.
Twenty-seven percent of Americans say disagreements over finances are most likely to erupt into an argument, ahead of arguments over children, chores, work, and friends, according to a recent survey of married or cohabitating couples by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Fights with your spouse are never easy, but evidence shows that arguments over money can be particularly distressing. A 2011 study by Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University found that married couples who disagreed about money once a week were twice as likely to divorce as those who differed less than once a month. This is partly because money arguments encompass more than just finances. "Money doesn't just represent money; it represents love, power, control, self-esteem, freedom," says Olivia Mellan, a money coach and author of Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Relationships.
"Money decisions are such personal decisions, which is why they can lead to nasty fights," says Scott Palmer, who co-authored the book First Comes Love, Then Comes Money: A Couple's Guide to Financial Communication with his wife, Bethany.
When it comes to money, many couples are blinded by their own views on spending and saving, and often can't see or understand their partner's perspective. "We always think our own way of looking at money is the best, and it creates a tug-and-pull inside the relationship," says Bethany Palmer.
Communication is key to resolving money issues, experts say. Gaining a better understanding of your partner's financial habits will enable you to prevent arguments with your spouse over money—or at least quell them before they escalate. U.S. News spoke to experts for their recommendations:
Be financially transparent. Financial transparency is the foundation of good communication, says Bethany Palmer. "If you're not open with your spouse about your finances, it's very hard to have an intimate relationship," she says.
Being honest about your finances from the start—including any debt you carry, for example—will enable you and your spouse to avoid financial infidelity. "If both parties aren't on the same page, it leads to secrets, which can undermine a marriage," says Matt Bell, author of Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples.
Exchange information. Jean Dorrell, a certified estate planner in Summerfield, Fla., who counsels couples about money, recommends that couples share credit reports and tax returns—that way, nothing is kept secret. This ideally occurs before they tie the knot, but it can still be effective if done at the beginning of the marriage. "When you fall in love with somebody, you don't think about going, 'Oh, by the way, how's your credit score?' But it's a conversation you need to have," Dorrell says.
If your partner has significant debt, Dorrell suggests you consider signing a prenuptial agreement so that you're not legally responsible for paying off their debt in the event that you divorce.
Establish a budget. Creating a budget for you and your spouse will take the guesswork out of your money arguments. "A budget gives you factual information," says Bell. "A lot of arguments around money have to do with assumptions and emotions. But if you have a budget, you can take a look strictly at the numbers, which will enable you to have a fact-based discussion about any disagreements."
Even if one spouse doesn't stick exactly to the budget, having one in place creates an expectation of how much each of you should be spending. Just be sure to allow some wiggle room for discretionary purchases, suggests Lynn Mayabb, a certified financial planner with BKD Wealth Advisors in Kansas City. "Everybody is going to have something they want to buy that the other person thinks is frivolous," she says. "Each person needs a certain amount of money that they don't have to explain where they spent it. If you have a budget that's too constricting, people have a hard time sticking to it."