Illustration by Lars Leetaru
The biggest area of conflict couples face—ahead of religion, politics, and whose turn it is to do the dishes—is money. Two local experts share their tips for successfully navigating financial decision-making between you and yours.
Bill Doherty, Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota
It’s not just about the numbers
“I help couples understand that their issues are not always about the money; it’s about emotions and how they relate to each other,” explains Doherty. Before a couple makes any major financial decisions together, Doherty suggests that they should first discuss how money was handled in their families and in their past. “I worked with one couple, which was a remarriage,” he says. “The husband felt that he was taken advantage of in his first marriage, so he was having trouble trusting his new wife.” These conversations help couples learn where they need to focus their efforts to accomplish not only their financial goals, but to also develop a stronger personal relationship.
“When someone is the holder of information that the other person doesn’t have, that erodes trust,” says Doherty. This can also lead to control issues. “I know a couple where one person bought a car that was $15,000 more than expected,” he says. “Then the other person found out and bought a whole new dining room set as
payback. They’re not arguing about money—they’re struggling with determining who has the say. Who’s in charge?”
Be a team player
Doherty asserts that no one in the relationship can be in charge. Rather, he suggests that couples need to establish a “blended approach” that isn’t just one person’s style or the other. “If both people can express how they feel, and they respect each other, it will be easier to reach a decision,” he notes.
Ruth Hayden, Financial consultant and author of For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples
Determine shared values
Because partners commonly argue about who gets to spend money and who decides where it goes, Hayden explains that determining your common values will put you in sync. “When it comes to core values, most couples are in agreement, whether they want to invest in adventure, family, education, or financial security,” she says. Forming this foundation will help you and your partner set goals so you both know how to spend your money, and why you put those goals into place.
Practice in short sprints
If couples don’t practice money-related conversations, disagreements can spiral into reoccurring arguments, or “marathons,” Hayden warns. She recommends meeting once per week, setting a timer, and talking about your shared finances for no more than an hour. These “short sprints” condition couples to become stronger
No winners or losers
It’s all about compromise. “No one likes that word,” Hayden says without hesitation. “People think it means that one person will lose and one will win, but it’s important to avoid acquiescing,” she advises. If one person lets go of their desires and allows the other person to take control, over time, anger will build and couples will face more disagreements. “Being right isn’t a relationship goal. Two people have to stretch until they reach a decision they can both live with. Money is just another tool for how to partner, and when couples do the work and learn how to make financial decisions together, they feel confident they can manage any kind of decision together.”