The adage that “opposites attract” can lead to some serious problems when married partners disagree on the fundamentals of how to manage their household finances and investments.
Maybe you grew up in a frugal household where thriftiness and the value of saving money were emphasized. Meanwhile, your partner was raised by big-spending parents who racked up lots of debt. The result? A fundamental mismatch in values about the role of money. While money may represent safety and security for you, your spouse may simply view it as a means to happiness, power, or status.
“The way you think about money is a reflection of some of your core values,” says Theresa Melchionna Rhein, a licensed mental health therapist in Mansfield, Mass. “It’s best to understand your partner’s approach to money management before you tie the knot. If you failed to do that, however, it’s still possible to reach common ground.”
If financial disagreements are causing serious problems in your relationship with your partner, honest communication is perhaps your best chance of achieving reconciliation. As you work toward a resolution, keep these tips in mind:
- Nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. If you’re the saver and your partner is the big spender (or vice versa), that does not mean your approach to money management is superior. Granted, compulsive shopping and overspending can lead to financial problems, but people who hoard every penny and never take time to enjoy simple pleasures may be shortchanging themselves and their partners. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes to gain some insight into what is driving their behaviors.
- Try to establish shared goals. While you may disagree on spending and saving, you can probably agree on some common goals. Most people want to be able to retire comfortably or help their children obtain a college education. So agree on some broad goals first, and then work backward to figure out what it will take to achieve those goals. Seeing the big picture may help a free-spending partner understand the harm that too much spending can have on achieving long-term goals.
- Don’t play the blame game. Focusing on past behaviors will not change your current situation. Try to put those resentments aside and focus on how you might be able to compromise in the future. For example, if your partner bristles at the idea of adhering to a budget, you might suggest a compromise. Each of you could contribute a certain dollar amount or a percentage of your earnings toward common goals, such as retirement and college education accounts. Once those core goals (and routine monthly expenses) are met, each partner is free to do what they want with their remaining funds. Your partner might enjoy buying a new pair of shoes while you might enjoy squirreling away more money toward a planned vacation.
- Avoid generalizations. When “discussions” turn into arguments, it’s sometimes hard to avoid going on the attack. You may find yourself saying things like, “you always spend too much,” or “you never check with me before buying things.” These types of generalizations can put your partner on the defensive and cause them to respond in kind. The result is an escalation in tensions that can lead to gridlock. As an alternative, try letting your partner know how their actions make you feel. For example, you could say, “Sometimes you make big purchases without checking in with me. This causes me a lot of stress when the credit card bill arrives and I’m surprised to learn we don’t have the money to pay the bills.”
- Seek professional help. In an ideal world, all couples would have serious, in-depth discussions about their finances and financial values before getting married. If that was not the case for you and your partner and you find yourselves at a financial impasse, consider hiring a couple’s counselor or asking your financial advisor for guidance.