Finances are a common trigger for argument in any marriage.
Research: Spenders Versus Tightwads
This came from BYU’s Flourishing Families Project which provides a longitudinal, multi-informant, multi-method look at inner-family dynamics.
My favorite headline that emerged from this study:
“Husbands! Stop Thinking your Wife is Bad with Money!”
The study found that for husbands, having a wife who they PERCEIVED as a spender was the highest contributor to financial conflict. For wives, having a husband who PERCEIVED THEM as a spender was the highest contributor for financial conflict. This was seen in couples who had high incomes and low incomes as well as in couples who traditionally spend a great deal and those couples who don’t. The views were completely relative to perception, not reality. Even if and when circumstances change, perceptions often don’t.
Money is loaded with power and meaning that can make can discussions heated and hurtful. Arguments about money aren’t about money. They are about our dreams, our fears, and our inadequacies.
Identify your Hidden Money Map
If you asked 100 people what is “enough” money to be rich, you’d soon realize that what is “enough” for one person is completely inadequate for another. That’s because money is not about how much one has but about how much one believes is enough.
What blocks a marriage often is not money. It’s the meaning we give money.
Money Maps are often subtle and difficult to read. You may have grown up with an alcoholic mother who spent food money on liquor, making your meals unpredictable, so you made a promise to yourself that high-quality, expensive food was more important than saving for retirement. Or maybe you were picked on by kids in school for the way you dressed, so you spent all of your savings on custom tailored suits and ate Mac and Cheese every night so you wouldn’t get made fun of.
It’s these personal meanings that guide how we deal with money in our marriage. Logic has very little to do with it.
So when your partner complains about the expensive organic groceries you bought at Whole Foods, or the silk tie that costs more than a plane ticket, an argument breaks out. To you it’s not just food or a tie. These privileges represent stability and success. They protect you. They define you.
Take the Gottman Online Money Exercise
There is an exercise to stop financial fighting and start understanding each other created by The Gottman Institute. Because again the key to successfully managing financial conflict in marriage is to focus on the hidden meaning money has for each of us.
Couples who come in with money issues in their marriage feel stuck with no end in sight. But as we talk, they start to investigate and learn about each other’s world. These new details allow for the couple to better know each other, make healthy compromises and work together to make sure each other’s needs are met. It’s not easy facing these discussions about money but it’s completely worth it for living a rich marital life.
Create & Share your Money Laws
What do you need to be financially secure in your marriage? Come up with 3 money laws and share them with each other.
“If X, then Y.”
- Broken Money Law Examples: (maybe these could be on screen?)
“If you don’t stick to the budget then you don’t care about me.”
“If you buy another expensive toy instead of taking me on vacation then you don’t care about me.”
“If you spend another $300 shopping instead of our children’s education then you don’t care about our children.”
- Money Law Examples: (maybe these could be on screen?)
“If you take me on a date then I will feel loved.”
“If I can contribute to the Red Cross then I’ll feel helpful to those in need.”
“If we save $500 this month then I’ll feel that you truly care about me and our finances.”
Once you have an understanding of each other’s money laws it’s time to discuss the financial conflicts in your marriage.
Make a Mindful Money Marriage Plan
Much like diet and exercise we tend to underestimate what we eat and overestimate how much we exercise (we overestimate going to gym by 70%. It would be cheaper in some situations to pay for a day pass than a membership.) So too do we underestimate how much we spend and overestimate how difficult it is to save.
Analyze what you’ve spent over the last six months or even year and together make a plan on how to spend your money. Intentionally choose how you’re going to spend, save or invest your money.
I find that couples who believe they can’t save more money are really just scared to learn about themselves and their spending habits
The good news: couples can benefit from clinical help whether that be from a financial planner or a marriage therapist (or even both!) ~ we all need to better educated about the math and meaning of money.