Being vulnerable about what you need from a partner can be difficult and intimidating. But when it comes to certain conversations, especially around finances, getting on the same page is a crucial step toward marital bliss.
The knee-jerk reaction to financial problems is to try to fix it, but it’s important to understand whether your partner wants solutions or comfort. Entering into these conversations with finesse, patience and understanding can help you grow together and heal wounds you may not have even known were there.
Here are three common financially-rooted arguments and how to navigate them successfully.
- Disagreement on what constitutes as a necessary expense
If one partner is struggling with student loan or credit card debt, it may be hard for them to justify putting aside money for emergencies or retirement. Add in a fellow partner who is debt-free and all about planning for the future, and you’re bound to have the occasional conflict.
Take, for instance, a life insurance premium costs on average $147 a month. Erika Wasserman, a financial therapist in Miami, recalled one client who felt the expense was worthwhile and wanted to get a life insurance policy following the birth of her second child. Whenever she asked her husband, however, he would get defensive and argumentative about the expense.
By stepping back and discussing the issue in depth, the argument over the expense had little to do with money at all. Instead, it stemmed from the husband’s aversion to consider the possibility of his own death — and the uncertain future that his family would face in such an event.
Wasserman said understanding why each partner feels as he or she does is crucial to resolving the dispute, because it’s often about more than just the money.
“When people understand why it means so much to you, it will help your partner understand your passion for the topic,” she said.
Rating the topic on a scale of 1 to 10 regarding its importance can also help each person see how close they are to reaching a compromise.
- Playing the blame game with your partner’s financial past.
Most people enter a relationship with some kind of baggage. Financial baggage, in particular, can fester, resulting in misalignments about financial priorities and intense arguments.
“This is a very common issue,” Wasserman said. Each person enters a relationship with their own views and experiences with money, and it takes a lot of communication and work to get on the same page.
“Have monthly check-ins to keep the dialog positive and moving in the right direction, just like you would in a work environment,” she suggested.
It can be even more triggering when the past money behavior ties directly into a previous relationship — say debt you racked up helping an ex pay for night classes or paying for a storage unit filled with items from your first marriage.
While talking through past experiences (both good and bad) is an important first step to aligning your money values, Wasserman also recommended setting a common goal, like paying off debt or saving for a vacation. By working together, you can create new, joint money experiences that can help strengthen your relationship over time.
- Avoiding conversations around spending
Much like not putting the cap back on the toothpaste or constantly forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning, daily financial choices can lead to a lot of resentment down the line.
“It sounds small, but it’s the little things,” Wasserman said. “When one person spends $50 per week on coffee while the [partner] doesn’t, everyday that couple starts off with a fight.”
Instead of letting this irritation fester and turn into anger over time, Wasserman said to bite the bullet and talk about it as soon as the fight becomes chronic. “Having open and honest talks early on will help reduce this stress on the relationship,” she said. When having that discussion, she said to stay on topic until this issue is resolved. Don’t bring other issues with your finances into the argument.
“Tackle one issue at a time,” Wasserman said.