Fights about money are one of the leading causes of divorce in America. A third of couples say they get into it about money at least once a month.*
But money fights are rarely about the numbers in your bank account.
More often they're about trust, communication, and power, says Megan Ford, a financial therapist based in Georgia.
"In the heat of conflict, it can seem like you'll never understand one another or find common ground," says Ford.
Here's how to stop the screaming and get to the heart of the issue so you and your partner can build your relationship—and your bank accounts—together.
1. Get on the same page—literally
Most people budget, but many do it in their heads. If you're keeping competing accounts or frankly have no idea where they money goes, it's time to get the numbers out into a neutral, equally accessible space.
Deputize an online budget app or a regularly updated spreadsheet as your third-party referee.
Even if your arguments aren't explicitly about dishonesty, a good place to ground the discussion is in the hard, cold facts of who spent what when.
2. Make time for money talk
Don't sit around stewing about your partner's apparent inability to make a dent in his credit card debt. Or speculating on how much she actually spent on those shoes.
Better to agree ahead on a money talk night. (It's no date night, but budgets do pair well with pizza.)
The idea that talking about money is "impolite, taboo, and not in good taste is still very much present and significantly affects how open some couples feel about discussing it," says Ford, who is also a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Money is cause for a lot of anxiety, guilt, and shame, she says. Talking about it can make us feel vulnerable.
The goal is to create a designated safe space to talk about money challenges in a calm way with facts and figures—not name-calling and finger-wagging.
3. Step back, Judgy McJudgerson
It's really important to listen before you judge your partner's financial decisions or behaviors.
Even if your partner's expensive cheese obsession or belief that their HBO subscription is a mandatory expense may seem silly or irrational to you, part of being in a healthy partnership is working to understand your significant other better, says Ford.
Ask your partner why they act or think a certain way about money. Perhaps his parents did it that way. Maybe it's a coping strategy she developed when she was dead broke.
"Work on seeking to understand as a way to lessen conflict," says Ford.
4. Target challenges, build on agreements
If you can both pull apart the things that set each other off, you'll better understand the minefields that keep your stress levels up.
What talks cause you trouble? Do you get into it when you're trying to prioritize needs versus wants? Maybe you're particularly sensitive to a partner's questioning your purchases.
"Knowing where things aren't working can help you better identify what you need to work on specifically, so that you don't feel that you're trapped in perpetual conflict around every single thing that involves money," says Ford.
And if you look for them, there are likely exceptions to the conflicts—things that you actually agree on. Build on those.
Not only can they provide a change of perspective, they may become your mutual financial goals.
5. Know when to get help
Some money mistakes that spike stress levels—like late payments, high interest credit card debt, or plummeting credit scores—can take years to recover from or eliminate.
Better to get help early if behaviors aren't changing and your financial situation is unraveling. Don't hesitate to call in the reinforcements. From government-approved credit counselors to government-approved debt education, there are resources available to help. Likely more are available in your community through non-profit organizations or educational institutions.
Even if you aren't bleeding money, you may be leaking cash due to communication missteps. You and your partner may benefit from working with a certified financial planner or a financial therapist, like Ford, who can help you make sense of both the money and your honey.
* Top 5 money habits of happy couples, Ameriprise: https://www.ameriprise.com/retirement/insights/ameriprise-research-studies/couples-and-money-study/
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