If we’re honest, we don’t need research to tell us what we already know deep in our bones: We don’t always agree with our partners on money matters. Often, fights with a spouse about spending or saving can drive us right to the edge.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s actually possible to stop money fights before they bubble up. Because here’s the thing: your relationship and experiences with money didn’t develop overnight, so you can’t expect to immediately live harmoniously with someone who has a different financial mindset. It takes time and effort. Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree and move on for a while before taking up a contentious topic again.
Here’s a look at some of the best ways couples can successfully navigate financial issues together. These proven strategies can help you communicate more and argue less about money.
Write it Down
If you tend to disagree on where money should go outside of your typical household expenses and monthly bills, make a list of your money priorities (such as children, a vacation account or an emergency fund) for where each partner feels extra money should go.
“It’s very important for each person in the couple to write down their pressure points, including whoever (or whatever) will need more financial assistance than usual,” says Maggie Baker, Ph.D., a psychologist and financial therapy specialist. “Then list your own personal priorities. Writing it down cements what you are thinking about. If it’s just rolling around in your head, it’s easy to get lost.”
Schedule Money Chats
Once you have your list, plan a meeting with your significant other. You may want to set a recurring appointment once a month, and then set guidelines for how your money talk will go. Set a time limit of an hour, and agree that neither party can leave the room or the conversation during that time.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to disagree with your partner when the moment arises, Baker notes. “You can talk about how the conversation is making you feel. Just don’t get up and walk out. With such a touchy subject, if someone feels abandoned, that does not bode well,” she explains.
“Short and frequent money discussions are key,” says Sarah Sprague Gerber, AFC, founder of Momentum Financial Planning. “You don’t necessarily want to build up a money discussion into some huge hours-long event. That can be intimidating and you could keep putting it off until it never happens.”
Prepare to Compromise
Many of us already know we can’t always get what we want, exactly when we want it. You should begin conversations about money with the expectation that you will need to compromise on some things.
“You will get some of what you want,” Baker says, “but go into the talk with the expectation that you can’t get it all your way. That often helps a lot.” It’s also crucial to make sure both partners are reflected in your shared personal financial strategy, Gerber notes. That means if one of you is comfortable with a very aggressive portfolio, yet the other person can’t sleep at night, that could be a problem. If that’s where you are now, try coming up with some options that take into account both perspectives. There’s almost always a happy medium where money is concerned.
Practice Your Listening Skills
We all have a need to be heard. That means most of us should also sharpen our listening skills, Baker says. Then, whenever you’re having a planned money chat, let your partner speak, and then repeat back what you heard to confirm that’s what they really meant.
“I hear you,” are three of the most important words when it comes to talking about money with your partner, Baker says. “When you can have an honest discussion, when an issue is clearly stated and understood by each person, then you can talk about it more successfully.”
If you find yourself stuck, don’t give up. You can either agree and move on or agree not to agree, Baker explains, and come back to it later.
Track Your Spending Together
Being aware of what you spend is key to meeting financial goals in general, Gerber says, but this is especially true when you’re tracking with someone else. It helps to find a good way to ensure both of you are continually on top of what’s going out to keep you on the same page about shared goals. By doing this, you’re getting ahead of any money fights and stopping them before they start.
Gerber and her partner use Mint and Personal Capital to track their net worth together. They also decided that using an old-fashioned spreadsheet helps them keep track of spending over time in a way that’s meaningful for both of them.
Look to a Professional If You Need One
If you and your partner find you’re unable to resolve your money issues on your own, you may want to consider seeking assistance from an accredited financial therapist or counselor. A professional can help each partner consider their individual ‘money stories’ and feelings about finances, and understand how they may be very different. For a list of financial therapists in your area, visit the Financial Therapy Association, or visit a credit union near you.