How couples can avoid money fights
Thursday, 13 February 2020
When it comes to causes of marital conflict, money is usually at the top of the list.
One spouse might be a spendthrift while the other has a penchant for expensive clothes. Or perhaps one prioritizes saving for retirement while the other thinks investing in a home remodel makes more sense.
There are many reasons for financial disagreements, and most couples have some, regardless of how much they earn. Usually, though, the fights are driven by a lack of communication and different attitudes towards money. "It's never about just about the money, but about what the money represents." says Olivia Mellan, money coach and author of Money Harmony: A Road Map for Individuals and Couples.
In the worst cases, money disagreements become so deep that they can cause couples to divorce. A study of more than 4,500 couples by researchers at Kansas State University found that arguments about money are the top predictor of divorce.
Mellan, however, says money disagreements can be turned into productive discussions. The key is for couples to recognize that they each have a "money personality," a particular way they approach saving, spending and investing. Once couples have a better understanding of each others' money profile, they'll be better able to communication — and collaborate on money matters.
The different types of money personalities
Every person has a different relationship with money. You might view money as something that gives you freedom, while your spouse might find money to be a cause of anxiety.
Mellan, also a psychotherapist, says there are several types of money personalities. Among of the most common are:
- Hoarders: They love to save and hate to spend. They have a few top financial priorities. They frequently view most spending as frivolous and they avoid buying things with the exception of necessities. They also tend to be cautious investors.
- Avoiders: They dread thinking or talking about money. Financial issues may overwhelm or stress them out. Consequently, they tend to procrastinate on financial tasks from paying their taxes to creating a budget.
- Spenders: They like to spend, spend, spend. They get some immediate rush from buying things for themselves or others. Saving and working towards long-term financial goals often are difficult for them.
- Money monks: They don't like money. "(They) think that money is dirty, that it is bad, and that if you have too much of it, it will corrupt you," Mellan writes. As a result, they don't prioritize earning it or spend too much time thinking about how to grow their money. As investors, they might prefer "socially responsible" options that mirror their values.
Mellan stresses that one personality type isn't inherently better than another. And she notes that couples with different personality types can complement each other — and make better, smarter decisions together.
How to get on the same page
Whether you've been with your spouse for two months or 20 years, you need to have regular, open dialogue about money issues. Make sure you don't have those difficult conversations when you're pressed for time or tired; that's a recipe for conflict. Instead schedule money talks with your spouse in advance, so both of you will have time to mentally prepare and will feel heard.
Mellan suggests the following strategies to keep conversations productive:
- Listen, then talk. Before you dive deep into the details, let your spouse share his concerns, and listen. Is he worried that buying that new car will mean foregoing emergency savings and put the family at risk? Then make sure to voice your point of view. Once you discuss the emotional issues underlying the money questions, you'll be better able to calmly negotiate the dollars and cents.
- Be generous. Even if you and your partner have opposite money personalities, call out what you admire in his or her approach. "I really appreciate how you want to plan for the worst-case scenario and make sure that we're financially secure." Voicing your appreciation can reduce tension and make the other person feel "heard."
- Keep the conversation going. Conversations shouldn't be a one-time event, and both spouses need to be full participants in planning. It's fine to have your mate handle paying the bills, but both of you need to have a good understanding of your finances and how you're spending money and prioritizing. "It's dangerous to leave it to just one person," Mellan says, noting that can lead to resentments and misunderstandings later.
- Consider bringing in an expert. Are you at an impasse? Or do you want some objective advice from a third party? It may be time to consult an expert. A financial consultant can take a comprehensive look at your family's finances and goals and help create a plan that will make both of you comfortable.
Bottom line: Don't let money matters drive you and your spouse apart. Instead work to increase your understanding of and respect for each others' money personality, improve your communication and afford your partner some kindness when it comes to financial matters.
"A combination of insight and behavior changes can work wonders for even the most polarized couples," Mellan says.
The content provided is for informational purposes only. Neither BBVA USA, nor any of its affiliates, is providing legal, tax, or investment advice. You should consult your legal, tax, or financial consultant about your personal situation. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BBVA USA or any of its affiliates.
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