Research has shown that money is the most common cause of conflict in both newlyweds and in couples who had been married a few years. Additionally, this finding holds true for both African-American and Caucasian couples, and for both husbands and wives. When you consider all the other things there are to disagree about--children, in-laws and how leisure time is spent--that's a pretty serious statement about the impact of money.
In a precarious financial situation like the one many people in the United States and around the world currently face, money stress can affect relationships in many ways. While the obvious causes of a family's financial crisis may seem global and impersonal (the mortgage meltdown or related bank and stock market fallout, for example), the money crisis may bring up pre-existing arguments between the spouse who saves and the spouse who spends, or put more stress into disagreements about how money is spent. Financial stress can also lead to unhealthy coping behaviors like excessive drinking or, ironically, compulsive spending, which can lead to more conflict in a relationship. Many couples will be brought closer by the financial stress they face, but many others will be driven further apart at a time when they need to work together and rely on one another's support.
What's a couple to do? Here are some ideas on how to weather tough economic times and have the necessary discussions about money without having a knock-down, drag-out with your partner.
Stay CalmMoney problems can be stressful to talk about. Often, the times when financial issues present themselves are times when you are already feeling stressed, like when something goes wrong and you feel overwhelmed by financial worries. However, the best way to discuss money and make plans is when you are calm and thinking most clearly. So, by all means, have serious discussions about money, but set yourself up for success first. Before you begin discussing finances, be sure to pick the right time. Block out some time, be sure you've eaten recently and aren't sleep deprived, and do whatever works best to calm yourself before you begin discussing finances.
How To Stay Calm
Stay ConnectedRemember that the goal of the discussion is not just to iron out financial difficulties, but to do so in a way that nurtures your connection as well. Decide ahead of time that when tempers flare, for example, you can take a break to cool off, and then come back to the discussion. Remember to compromise, and find win-win solutions whenever possible. Do something fun afterward to maintain your sense of connection and get your mind onto happier topics. Remember that you're both on the same "team," and that you can do this together (and gently remind your partner in a loving way, if necessary).
How To Stay Connected
Stay FocusedMoney issues can be explosive because they tend to touch on other underlying emotional minefields in the relationship. Because we all have different values regarding money, discussions on where to spend can often become veiled discussions about what is most important, and this can get dicey. If you find yourself discussing issues that are related to where your money goes, but loosely so, try to keep the discussion as focused as possible. For example, "I think it is important for our kids to stay in after-school classes like karate, and here is why," is a gateway to a topic that is not strictly about money, but is related to why money should be spent in a particular direction. "I think it is important for our kids to stay in after-school classes like karate, but obviously you don't care about our kids. Like last year, when you..." is a road you do not want to go down. Keep the discussions closely related to financial topics, and you'll be finished and at a place of resolution much more quickly, with fewer hurt feelings along the way.
Stay OrganizedIt is important to be organized with how you deal with money discussions. If you are discussing finances, have an idea of what issues need answers before you start talking. Stay on track during the discussion, and be sure you've wrapped things up before you stop, if possible. This is part of staying organized with money.
Being organized in other ways is important, too. Have a budget and stick to it as closely as possible. Keep all of your bills in one place, and pay them on time. Know where your money goes. And stay in communication about all of this. A little organization can't fix all money problems, but it can sure help to stave off the problems that can come from lack of organization, such as late bills, bounced checks, and a disconnect on where money goes each month!
How To Stay Organized With Money
Stay OptimisticRemember that things might be tough right now, but they can always get better. Having a plan helps. Getting help from others if you need it can be a lifeline as well. Don't lose hope, and look at the positives in your situation. Sometimes financial issues can feel overwhelming, but if you remind yourself of the resources you do have, and create a plan that can get you onto better financial footing (even if it takes years), you can maintain optimism, which can be good for both of you!
How To Be More Of An Optimist
Further Reading: More On How To Stop Fighting About Money
- The Toll of Conflict in Relationships
- Healthy Communication Strategies
- What's Your Conflict-Resolution Style?
Oggins J. Topics of marital disagreement among African-American and Euro-American newlyweds. Psychological Reports, April 2003.