It starts with the small arguments. You don’t agree on where to eat out on a date night during the weekend. Then it turns to small petty arguments with not being able to agree on whether to paint the family room that has been all scratched up by the kid’s toys. Ultimately, it leads to full scale arguments about issues on whether to send the kids to private or public school, whether to vacation in Hawaii, and potentially doing a complete bedroom remodel 10 years after you have lived in your home.
Although you tied the knot and agree it would be until ‘death do us part’, there are many nights one of you goes to bed before the other simply over the fuming battle about money. Money creates interesting behaviors in all of us. Some of these feelings were ingrained is us as children based upon the way we were raised. Some of us came from nothing and our money fears are deeply rooted in the fear of going back to the nothing you had many moons ago. Others, simply hit an impasse in life where you know that whatever financial moves you are making are simply turning you down a path of destruction. So, when you and your spouse are constantly at each other’s throats around money discussions, how can you reasonably and rationally resolve your arguments?
While I am not a marriage counselor, half my life seems to be spent on the financial therapy side of the business as much as the actual pragmatic financial planning side of the business. Here are my four tips on giving you some guidelines on how to work out the fights that seem like they will never end.
- Try to uncover the “money” childhood – While I do believe that most of who we are comes from our genetics and childhood, I’ve learned that most people have certain money memories that are mapped out by the way they were raised as a child. In either the absence of excess of money, these memories shape how we financially plan for the holidays, for our vacations, and for the potential future ways we will deal with money for our children. One really good idea is to have a talk about how money habits were instilled in each partner during their childhood.
- Try to understand what makes someone “money happy”– Money means different things to different people. We know that money cannot ultimately buy you long term happiness, but it is important to understand the ‘why’ behind money happiness for your partner. Perhaps having a certain about in the bank provides a baseline of security that makes your partner money happy. Or, taking vacations make your partner money happy because their parents died too young to enjoy their money. Knowing this answer can better explains some of the emotions behind why your partner feels the way they do about money.
- Set goals, goals, and more goals? – You say that you both like biking for retirement. However, you like the idea of mountain biking and partner is thinking about getting the Harley roaring in the mountains. You like the idea of traveling around the world and your partner just wants to have a garden in the backyard. There is nothing harder, but better than having your joint goals on paper even if they aren’t 100% simpatico. While some goals you make be completely in sync, you’ll find that the goals that are mismatched may be what’s causing the underlying friction.
- Learn The One Big “Nag” Money Item – You both likely have one nagging item that really, really bothers each other. Think about this like when he leaves the wet towel in the middle the bathroom. Maybe one of you has a Starbuck’s or Amazon addiction that is more out of control than you think it is currently. Or, perhaps because one of you is constantly checking the American Express card every day it drives your partner nuts because they feel no independence whatsoever. Find out the one big nag that both of you have.
These four steps may not completely shut down your fighting, but it will help to get an open dialogue going. If you can’t fix it yourself, maybe you need more than a financial advisor. You might need to talk to someone who has the skill to do both financial therapy and financial advice all at the same time. Otherwise, the ‘until we part’ could come much sooner than you anticipated.