Unresolved conflict about money can be a major factor in a couple’s decision to get a divorce. Learning to communicate effectively about money may be the best solution.
The ability to face, handle, and resolve conflict is a skill. Unfortunately it is usually not a skill we are taught in school. What we do learn about conflict, for better or worse, comes from observing how conflict was handled in our families growing up.
Some people may have grown up in homes where conflict was hidden; peace at all costs. No one dared take it on or discuss it. Differences lay silent for years. Conflict was swept under the rug and its existence denied. It may have been a quiet home, but there wasn’t deep and genuine closeness. Others may have experienced the opposite—a home where conflict reigned as king. Chronic conflict may have been driven by one or both parents. Maybe there were episodes of yelling, fighting, or sarcasm in which nothing was ever resolved and tension filled the air. Somewhere in between, there may have been homes where occasional fights occurred with raised voices, but parents made a consistent effort to come back and talk calmly about issues so they could come to a resolution, apologize, and make up.
What Did You Learn About Managing Conflict?
marriage. Can you see why trying to communicate about and handle money differences can wreak havoc on a marriage?
What emotions do you feel about money?
What did you learn about handling finances?
How about your partner?
Our seven tips to resolving money conflict is a method we have used ourselves and with couples in Couple to Couple Coaching©. Conflict resolution is a skill anyone can learn. You and your partner can practice this, and then teach it to your kids.
1. Take it on together – Face and embrace conflict around money; do not avoid it or endlessly argue and fight about it. Carve out some quiet time for the two of you to talk without interruption, even if you have to hire a babysitter. Agree that during the discussion you will remember that this is not about who is right and who is wrong, but about two people with different points of view coming to a consensus.
Don’t put a conflict between the two of you; put the problem on the chalkboard and solve it as a team.
2. Check your emotions – Money can be a highly charged issue. Agree that one of you will speak at a time. Use “I” statements so you own your point of view. While one person is speaking, the other person must listen for understanding, not for developing their response back. Listen deeply until you understand your partner’s point of view so well that you could defend them in court, even if you don’t agree with it. If the conversation heats up even a little, agree that you will stop talking for the moment.
If you get emotionally hijacked during conflict, separate to soothe your own emotions; then come back to continue the discussion.
3. Get the facts – When couples come in with money conflicts, we often find that only one of them really knows what is going on financially, or that the two of them have never sat down together and looked at the numbers. How much income comes in? What are the fixed and variable expenses? Get your financial facts in order. If you don’t know how, agree to go to a financial adviser or your accountant to get this information.
Part of the solution to money conflict may lie with the numbers; imagine your home is a family business and do a Profit & Loss statement.
4. Explore “who owns the money” – Most couples we have seen don’t have equal income. Maybe one partner is staying home with the kids and earns no income, or two partners earn substantially different amounts of income. What we see in practice is the one who earns the greater income or the sole income feels entitled to decide how the money is spent. Often, the one who earns less or no money feels deterred from spending the partner’s money. Here is how we look at it:
If you truly believe that the investment and synthesis of innumerable tasks is what creates a family—child care, shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, paying bills, managing finances, scheduling doctors appointments, making money—then it follows that return on investment, including income, belongs to the couple as equal partners.
5. Look for deeper meaning – Often, disagreements about money are not really what they seem. Each of us have very different feelings about money. Have a conversation with your partner about what positive and/or negative feelings money brings up for you. Here is a list to get you started:
Conflict over money can be a metaphor for a deeper struggle. Talk with your partner about what money may represent to each of you based on your experience with money in the past. Here are some possibilities:
It is easier to have understanding and empathy for our partner’s point of view if we understand what money represents to our partner.
Our feelings about money can be understood if we look at our money history. Don’t make your partner wrong for having his or her feelings.
6. Create consensus – Couples will never agree on all money expenditures or savings, so there is a need to compromise and come to consensus. Neither person may get it all their way, but both can live with the decision.
Money is just a means of exchange for what we value. Since value is in the eye of the beholder, there is no right or wrong purchase.
7. Agree to ongoing dialogue periodically – We live in a world where we can’t avoid dealing with money, so it is vital that couples embrace this as an ongoing issue that they need to discuss from time to time. We suggest you review your finances together at least quarterly so you learn to approach the issues of saving, spending, and investing as a team.
The way a couple handles financial conflict is a portal into the strength of their relationship. Learning to effectively communicate about money builds a couple’s “relationship muscles.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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