“Money, money, money. That’s all we seem to argue about.”
“She spends too much money at the grocery store on stuff we don’t need.”
“He always wants to eat out.”
“She’s always buying new clothes.”
“We’re not buying the furniture he wants. It costs too much.”
“He won’t let me loan my sister a few ($500) dollars.”
“She should get a better job.”
“He should get a better job.”
Countless marriage experts have documented that one of the top reasons couples give for divorce is – you guessed it – fighting about money. If that’s the case, why is the world’s richest couple, Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon) and his wife, getting a divorce when they have all that money?
I’ve noticed in my 14 years of marriage that although we have had countless discussions, arguments and conflicts about money, wait for it… the issue isn’t really money. But if it’s not, then why do we fight about money so much? And why do we think it’s about money?
First, let’s recognize that every couple is different and there is no blanket answer. However, we know that our spending habits often reflect what we value. And if we disagree about what we should spend money on, then we disagree about what we value. And what I value is at the core of who I am and no one has the right to tell me what I should or shouldn’t value. Right?
For example, maybe I shop a lot because I value my appearance, because to look good is to feel good. Or maybe I value my independence and freedom and don’t like to feel controlled. Maybe I want to spend as little money as possible because I need to feel secure and if there’s no money in the bank, then I feel insecure. The issue wasn’t money in any of those instances. Instead, it was the symptom of a deeper issue.
If you feel like you’re fighting about money all the time, here are three things that can help:
- Start with understanding what you value and your attitude toward money. There are tons of resources you can use, but I think Sybil Solomon’s Money Habitudes can really help you gain insight into your own personal habits and attitudes toward money. Check it out, and trust me when I say that your marriage will thank you.
- Don’t forget to add in a little lightheartedness. Things like this Financial Would You Rather game from Annuity.org can help you get the ball rolling about some important conversations while keeping it fun.
- Don’t make assumptions. Do ask questions. I’ve learned to ask some simple questions when we discuss money matters in my marriage. When my wife I disagree about a purchase, I may humbly and non-judgmentally ask, “Why is that particular purchase/outing or whatever important to you? Help me understand.” I’ve learned a lot from that question. And it doesn’t mean that we always end up buying it. But now we are communicating and understanding what we value, not just what we want to spend money on.
- Seek to understand. (Did I mention that being humble really helps?) Perhaps your spouse has already spent money on something you believe was unwise, and you’re really unhappy about it. Before you accuse them and tell them they were irresponsible, inconsiderate or uncaring, check your own attitude first. Take a deep breath and ask why they thought that purchase or expense was so important at the moment. Humility + a non-judgmental attitude = Progress
Being humble and staying out of the judgment zone when it comes to spending can be a major win because the right attitude communicates that we care deeply about our partner, and NOT just about the topic at hand. Plus, moving past the symptom to the deeper issue is a major accomplishment you can both feel good about.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***