Money. It makes the world go ‘round. It is also a source of arguments and fights in marriage. In fact, a recent survey revealed 61% of couples fight over finances or money issues. Sixteen percent broke up as a result. And 80% of spouses spent money secretly (source).
Fear is Often at the Root
As we say frequently at The Marriage Meeting, anger is often an emotional mask for fear. When married couples fight over money, it is often due to fear that:
- We are spending recklessly and won’t have enough for our needs.
- We won’t have basic provisions. (We’ll lose the house, etc.)
- My partner is going to take all the fun and spontaneity out of life.
- We are not going to be able to attain our financial goals (for example: I’ll never be able to go into full retirement.)
- We are accumulating so much credit card debt that we are going to get crushed by it.
- My spouse is getting to spend more on himself or herself than I am and it’s not fair.
- My spouse is having to help his/her family financially due to poor financial planning on their part; money we should be saving for our future and our kid’s future.
- There is a lack of trust and transparency (example: My husband or wife has money stashed away that I do not know about.)
These typically manifest as anger if we don’t learn how to communicate about how we feel about our fears regarding money.
Our Backgrounds Often Set Our Expectations About Money
As you’ll hear us so often emphasize in The Marriage Meeting, most arguments arise from conflicting or unclarified expectations. Each spouse makes the assumption that the other will think the same way about money that he or she does.
“One Flesh” Finances
A important metaphor used in marriage is that a husband and wife are one flesh while remaining two unique individuals. We operate as a single unit composed of two people. We are in this together as a married couple, including the area of finances. Our goal is to have financial harmony and success. Money is a tool that can help us grow our marriage.
For this “one flesh” reason, we highly advise not having separate spousal bank accounts. Why? This prevents a potential area of intimacy (in-to-me-see) to be avoided, and diminished or lessened intimacy is never good for a marriage.
- Separate accounts allow for the possible hiding of money from the other spouse. Even if money is not being hidden, the potential for mistrust grows.
- Separate accounts can cause animosity or jealousy.
- Joint accounts allow for a team-based decision on where to spend money, and money reflects what our heart values.
- If you have kids, they can’t approach each spouse like they are a separate financial institution to gain money from or play one parent against the other.
Solutions to Stop Fighting About Money
Discuss Your Financial Backgrounds
Talk about how you were reared regarding how to manage money and finances. Use these questions for one week during your marriage meeting.
- How did your parents handle money?
- Who was the most conservative spenderin your family growing up?
- How did your parents handle money?
- Did you feel your family had adequate money growing up?
- What communication between your parents/guardians did you observe regarding money, finances, and budgets?
- Was there open communication? Hidden communication? Fights and arguments or civil discussion?
Consider a Real or Virtual Envelope System
Consider using the envelope method (either real or virtual) as promoted by Dave Ramsey. This will greatly reduce fighting as each month you will predetermine how you will spend money each month. Amy and I have joked that it’s better to argue once during funding the envelopes than throughout the month.
Here is an example of how we have seen the envelope system work well to reduce arguments.
Create an envelope for each spouse for clothing. Each envelope gets funded each month. If one spouse wants to save up their envelope over multiple months and buy a $400 dress or $600 suit while the other spouse prefers to buy 10 t-shirts a month, each is free to do so.
While this may sound like a violation of the joint account rule, but it isn’t. Why? Because each spouse can see all the envelopes, knows how much is funded each month, and can see each other’s expenditures. Moreover, a majority of the envelopes will be shared envelopes that both spouses use together.
Determine the agreed amount to spend without checking with your spouse from your shared envelopes.
Determine ahead of time how you will approach needing to move money from discretionary envelopes to non-discretionary, should the need arise. Much better to have this conversation well in advance during your marriage meeting rather than waiting for a crisis to hit.
Discuss Long-Term Goals and Dreams on Occasion
From time to time, it is important to talk to your partner about how each other’s retirement savings and accounts are performing. Discuss long-term dreams like an extended European vacation or a purchase you’d like to make after you retire.
Perspective, Perspective, Perspective
Remember you are to be fighting for one another, not against one another. Don’t think of your spouse as your opponent or enemy as you discuss money and personal finance. You are in the same corner, fighting the same fight together as a team.
So, talk about finances in your marriage meeting. It seems counter-intuitive, but the more you talk about them, the less you will fight about them–especially if you are talking about them weekly during your marriage meeting and not only in the heat of the moment.
One Final Personal Note
While The Marriage Meeting benefits all users from all backgrounds, for Amy and me, our Christian faith plays an important role in our marriage. We both believe that God is our ultimate provider. That helps us both not to freak out if things get financially crazy. (I wrote this article amid the COVID-19 crisis, where my agency took a bit of a financial beating.) We both hold onto Matthew 6 during challenging economic times. We also practice a spiritual discipline called tithing, to acknowledge that we are not our ultimate source. While we never force our faith on others, it is central to our success.