Married and fighting about money?
And are you worried about all the bickering and blaming and perhaps shouting and insult-throwing? You have good reasons to be – and not to be. On the negative side of the ledger, plenty of studies over the years have indicated that fighting over money is a leading indicator of a future divorce.
But on the positive side, some studies have gone the other way. For instance, a 2001 California State University study that looked at data from 2,000 married couples over a 12-year period determined that finances play a minor role in marriage breakups. That study suggested that being incompatible, having problems in the bedroom, a lack of emotional support and abuse are much better indicators of whether a couple will split.
All healthy marriages have disagreements over money, says Laurie Puhn, a New York City-based couples mediator and author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5 Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In."
"People should expect to fight about finances," Puhn says. "It's a part of any marriage and any long-term relationship. You will fight about finances."
With that in mind, here are some reasons you might fight and some strategies to come to a positive resolution.
Why you're fighting.
One of you earns much more money than the other. That's a common scenario, but resentment can easily creep in when "the secondary earner attempts to spend a greater share of the money than they earn," says Jeff Gropp, chair of the department of economics and management at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. "This resentment on both sides may be exacerbated in a household with only one income earner."
Your objectives are different. "For example, one person may be more risk-averse and want to put more money away for retirement, while the other person may be more consumer-oriented,” Gropp says. “Do you really need that new car, or should you put money away in your 401(k)? Putting money away in a 401(k) may sound boring, but it may be the more financially prudent move.”
Your personalities are different. For instance, Gropp says, "One parent may be deemed the 'fun' parent, and the other would be the 'boring' parent."
The fun parent, for example, is happy to spend freely on the kids so they have an idyllic childhood; the other thinks the family should reserve their limited funds for books and clothes instead of amusement parks and movies. In a case like this, both parents may be right.
But it's important to think about the “why” because emotions play such a big factor in disagreements over finances, says James Cordova, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and author of "The Marriage Checkup."
"It's rarely the math that couples are really arguing over," Cordova says. "It's what the money means to us emotionally, and if you don't address your emotions, it's like looking for your car keys under the street lamp when you lost them in the bushes."
What you can do about your money fights.
Disagree agreeably. Easier said than done, especially when one partner brings up a sore topic without warning, such as "We never have enough money," or “You spent how much on what?" Suddenly the bell has rung, and you two are swinging verbal punches.
That’s why you need to talk about how you argue and think of yourselves as boxers being warned by the referee not to eye gouge, bite or hit below the belt. As Puhn mentioned earlier, it's natural to fight about money – but how you do battle is important.
"You want to have a good fight and not a bad one, so you're coming up with some resolution," Puhn says. "If you can't come up with a solution, it's a real waste of energy."
And to disagree agreeably, you have to respect each other's opinions, she advises.