It is a well-known and often-cited fact that money and arguments about money are the #1 reason for divorce. And while it saddens me to know this fact in and of itself, it saddens me even more to know that there are things that can be done to prevent these arguments from happening. And without arguments, there’s a lower risk of divorce (or if you’re not married, a lower risk of breaking up).
From what I see with my conversations with couples, there are many different reasons why couples tend to fight about money. However, there are 3 relatively consistent reasons why couples find themselves miscommunicating about money (or perhaps not even communicating at all after a while):
1) The partners don’t fully appreciate each other’s “money perspective” or “money story” – Like it or not, we are all an accumulation of the various money experiences that we have had over our lifetime, both positive and challenging experiences. Some experiences weigh more heavily on us and we’re aware of them (they are conscious experiences) while yet some other experiences we are less aware of their impact (they are unconscious and insidiously run our lives without us even realizing it). So imagine the potential impact when an individual isn’t aware of all of their “money stuff” and then two individuals enter a relationship and multiply the amount of unknown “money stuff” – it becomes a heightened issue and this one particular reason causes the majority of the money fights I see and hear about. While it may seem like an odd conversation to have, I always advise couples to take the time to sit down and curiously explore how their partner grew up around money and what they believe. When you understand where they are coming from and what they learned (their personal “money filter” if you will), often times it is helpful information to refer to later on when a money discussion begins – you’ll have a better appreciation of their side!
2) Insufficient knowledge of numbers (a.k.a. “financial reality”) by either the couple together or one partner in the relationship – Understanding your numbers is a critical cornerstone of any proactive money management approach and any well-designed financial plan. However, when the numbers aren’t understood by one individual or both parties in a relationship it is a common point of confusion and overwhelm. Sometimes people are burying their heads in the sand on purpose, sometimes there is financial disorganization and clutter so understanding the totality of your finances is a challenge, and sometimes it’s a matter that the couple hasn’t taken the time to align their goals together and as a result they are using money in different ways that don’t support what they really want the relationship to be about. Any of these reasons can cause confusion and challenging energy in any financial conversation.
3) Financial infidelity – While I’ve spoken out in detail about this particular issue before (see here for article on this topic), it’s worth revisiting. In a nutshell, when you’re hiding (consciously or unconsciously) financial transactions and behavior from your significant other, it can slowly and quietly tear at the fabric of trust in a relationship. The first step in assessing whether financial infidelity has crept into your relationship is to ask yourself what you might be doing to impact the level of financial authenticity in your relationship. Second, listen and get feedback from your partner about what they believe could be working better in your financial relationship (you don’t always have to agree, just start with listening!). And third, now that you’ve self-assessed and asked your partner for feedback, it’s time to get on the same page with purposely-designed mutual goals that become the underlying backbone of any proactive money management approach and well-designed financial plan.
Each of these 3 issues has potential on their own to confuse and alter a couple’s ability to have honest and authentic money conversations, and sometimes all 3 of these issues surface at the same time causing a tsunami of emotions and miscommunications. It can lead to one partner or both partners feeling shut down and scared to communicate how they really feel because they either believe that their partner won’t hear them (i.e. the partner has one way of looking at things and doesn’t understand where they are coming from) or that they are going to just step into the same fight all over again.
If you’re in a situation now with a partner where you’re arguing about money, here’s my best piece of advice that I can give you to get started unlocking the mystery of a strong money partnership for you and your significant other – find your vulnerability, take some time to think about how you would like to kindly approach the topic of money, and start simply. Don’t make it about the large sack of financial baggage that is weighing you both down, start with some honesty about simply wanting to make things better, and invite your partner to a conversation so that you can better understand where they are coming from when it comes to money.
And while all of the above steps do indeed take time and effort, if you invest the time to better understand your partner and their money perspective I promise that over time it will pay off in a more cohesive and purposeful financial plan that will lead you more quickly to a life of financial independence!