Money arguments tend to be the most damaging to couples. Studies around money and relationships clearly demonstrate a strong correlation. Money arguments are the number one predictor of divorce in the United States. Interestingly, this affects people of all levels of income, net worth, and debt. It is clear that meaningful communication around money is important in a strong relationship.
Money Arguments and the Power of Love
Money arguments lead to endless amounts stress and conflict in a relationship. All of us want to find meaning and satisfaction in our closest relationships. Love is a very complicated emotion for most people. Even if you are deeply in love with someone, resentment and conflict around money can do irreparable damage. If you have kids, that tension is passed right down to them. It affects the entire family.
It’s important to discuss money habits and viewpoints early on. The sooner you have the conversation, the better. Unfortunately, many couples think that “love will conquer all”. While love can go a long way, if you are horribly misaligned on a set of values, it may lead to problems. Something that might seem like a small thing at the beginning of a relationship may turn into a huge issue. Besides, human beings tend to be on the stubborn side. Once we get an opinion on something, we usually want to defend it to the bitter end!
Overcoming the Social Stigma Around Money
Another problem we have in society is that most of us never learn HOW to discuss money. I talk about this constantly, but in the United States, it’s a terrible social stigma. 44% of people say money is the hardest thing for them to discuss. Yes, even more difficult than death, taxes, and religion. If two people enter a relationship lacking confidence and skill around money and personal finance, it’s a steep learning curve. A lot of people learn to succeed, but it involves trial and error. It is so much better to build a strong foundation in order to avoid big mistakes and hard lessons.
It’s really interesting to me to interact with people from other cultures. I have learned through many of my friends and acquaintances different views on money conversations. Some of them lead to humorous interactions with others. For example, I know a lot of people who grew up under communism. Their views and habits around money are very different from people from the United States.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
If you grew up in the United States, do you ever remember standing in line for toilet paper? Have you ever had an occasion where you could not get something like a banana or a pineapple? Of course, many people in the United States struggle with poverty and a lack of basic necessities. I know that is a reality in our society. However, for the most part, the vast majority of people enjoy a good standard of living. You would think that our society would be more open around money discussions.
Unfortunately, it’s the opposite. Seven out of ten Americans think talking about money is rude. Fortunately, this trend is slowly changing . I think people are very aware of the impact of this social stigma. It causes more harm than good. Of course, no one wants to be around a braggart who wants to flaunt their wealth. Thankfully, I think the younger generations are open to having more meaningful dialogue about money.
So, How Much Money Do You Make?
I’ve been in several casual conversations with people who grew up under communism. Because most of them are used to discussing money, it is not unusual for them to ask questions that elicit a funny response. I can share two personal examples. One time, I was with a group of co-workers. One of them mentioned that they had just gone on vacation to the Caribbean. The first question from one of our other colleagues was, “Tell me, exactly how much money did you pay for the vacation?” My colleague lost color in his face and took a moment to even answer. When he did, he just said “well I got a good deal on it.”
The other example was after a friend of mine had bought a house. An acquaintance of ours from Eastern Europe casually said, “Nice, how much did you pay for the house? As my friend stumbled to get his bearings, the next question was along the lines of, “how much money do you make in order to afford such a house?” My friend had to pick his jaw up off the floor. It actually lead to a nice conversation about the different cultures and our attitudes toward such questions. In his culture, this was a normal, legitimate question. He was just trying to learn some information. Over here, it is one of the biggest social faux pas a person can make. He could have just as easily said, “I just want you to know I think you are stupid and your children are ugly.” That might have gotten a similar reaction!
Money Arguments – Changing Your Personal Culture
Obviously, it is important to overcome these barriers. When it comes your home, you get to set the cultural rules! Make sure that you and your significant other work together on improving communication around money. There are several ways you can do this. Here are just a few ideas to help you avoid arguments and make real progress.
Compromise When Appropriate
First, accept that it’s perfectly normal to disagree on money topics. The important thing is that you learn how to communicate and compromise where appropriate. If one partner is completely against good money management, you might have a long term problem staring you in the face. That is why it is so critical to communicate your values before a long term commitment. In my experience, most couples have good intentions, they just disagree on how things will be accomplished. You might have one partner that is a little more hard core on saving and frugality. The other partner may not care as much about the details.
Recognize that both parties bring strengths and weaknesses to any relationship. We are all human, and our imperfections are evident. Throw in some money stress and fear about the future, and it’s easy for those emotions to get stronger. Talk about your fears about money and work together on solutions. It really goes a long way in strengthening your relationship and your resolve.
Goals – The Kryptonite to Money Arguments
I am a firm believer in setting goals. It is the very beginning of success. If you know what you want, you can work toward accomplishing it. When you set financial goals as a couple, you are choosing the strategy for your life together. It involves your values and what is important to you. It helps you chart a course for the future. People with goals accomplish more and they usually have a lot less stress around money. That doesn’t mean things will always go your way, but it means you have a plan to address problems. That goes a long way in setting you up for success.
Start with some small financial goals you can work on together. Figure out a debt you want to pay off. Talk about a monthly savings goal. What are you doing right now to plan for retirement? Do you know what you want out of your career? Setting goals can actually be a really fun process. When you accomplish a goal, it’s an awesome feeling. When you accomplish it together, it’s even better.
Be Open and Honest With Each Other
The other key I see in my work is being completely open and honest. If you have secret bank or credit card accounts, it indicates a lack of trust. Perhaps one person is trying to hide embarrassment over past financial mistakes. It might be an issue where someone has a spending problem they aren’t ready to acknowledge. The longer those things fester, the more negative impact they have on a relationship.
I have seen some real horror stories with people being secretive with finances. I know of several people who were blindsided by a divorce and were shocked to find out that their mate had hidden assets. They were essentially wiped out and left with nothing after years of marriage and raising a family. They had trusted their mate completely with the finances, and knew nothing about what was going on. That level of betrayal was extremely difficult to overcome.
Those are extreme examples, but it happens all too frequently. It is so important for both partners to be involved in financial discussions. It’s fine if one partner does the management, but the other one should be aware of the details. If something happens to one of you, wouldn’t you want to make sure the other person was taken care of?
Conquer the Fear of Money Arguments Head On
Talking about money is never easy. It brings out a tremendous amount of emotion. It involves addressing your fears. There’s a chance it involves talking about mistakes and regret. Some people feel embarrassed about their past mistakes or lack of expertise. Don’t look back! Life involves constant growth and learning new lessons. If you can break through the barriers around serious money discussions. it can lead to so much for you and your loved ones! Money arguments can be a thing of the past. It takes a lot of work, communication, and commitment.
Is it easy? No it isn’t. A lot of couples aren’t able to overcome the barriers. The good news is that a lot of people have been extremely successful in making things work. Money arguments can turn into meaning communication. It’s like any other skill you learn in life. It takes commitment, practice, and consistency. If you change the conversation about money, it can bring so much more into the relationships that mean the most to you!