Few things can disrupt your wedded bliss faster than an argument over money.
Some 47 percent of millennial couples argue about money occasionally, according to a 2015 Money poll, while 17 percent fight about it often. Overspending, miscommunication over the household budget and not having enough emergency savings are the top sources of disagreement.
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Joshua Zimmelman, owner of the New York City-based Westwood Tax & Consulting understands what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to helping couples navigate money issues. He says money arguments in marriage have less to do with differences in financial styles and more to do with how you address them.
“Some couples might think they’re financially incompatible, but most tensions about money actually come from a lack of communication,” Zimmelman says.
If money is a source of stress, you need a game plan for communicating more effectively. These tips can help pave the way to smoother money discussions.
1. Start early
The sooner you get the ball rolling on money talks in your relationship, the better. Ideally, the discussion should begin long before couples wed.
“Couples should chat about finances to some degree while they’re still dating,” Zimmelman says, and dig into the details of their financial history and goals once they’re engaged. That includes things like your debt and credit score, plans for buying a home if you don’t own one yet, and what kind of retirement you envision.
If you’ve already tied the knot, have this talk as soon as possible. This can lay the foundation for how you manage money together throughout your relationship.
2. Be honest
Honesty is essential in a marriage, particularly when it comes to money. Keeping money secrets can undermine the trust in your relationship. Being honest also means being able to speak freely about your goals and expectations.
“You have to be willing to have frank, open discussions about what you want and need,” Zimmelman says. “You might be tempted to hold your tongue about certain issues to avoid confrontation, but it only leads to bigger problems later on.”
In other words, if you want to talk about money in marriage without arguing, be willing to lay all your cards on the table.
3. Don’t play the blame game
Mistakes happen. Sometimes, they involve money. While it’s tempting to point fingers, it’s healthier for your finances and your marriage to focus on problem-solving instead.
Angela McIlveen, an attorney with McIlveen Family Law Firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, says accountability is the key to having a positive conversation about finances without blaming each other.
“Each person needs to commit to the plan moving forward,” McIlveen says, and if someone slips, “the conversation should be about accountability and the future, not placing blame.”
4. Be respectful
Respect is just as important as honesty when you’re working together to find common financial ground.
“Treating someone you supposedly love with disrespect will only breed resentment over time,” Drake says.
Couples have to remember that no one is perfect and sometimes, a little grace is in order. That means no name calling or passing judgment.
“The goal should always be moving forward together towards a positive outcome, not putting down your partner,” Zimmelman says.
5. Adopt a team mentality
Recognizing that you’re on the same side can go a long way towards easing money conflicts. Shea Drake, a Salt Lake City-based tech and business writer who’s been married for eight years, says looking at finances as a team-building activity helped her to see it more positively. She and her husband schedule biweekly dates to review their bills, savings, and goals so they can see how much progress they’re making and what they can do to improve.
Zimmelman says couples should divvy up their financial responsibilities based on their skills. A spreadsheet-nerd spouse might handle tracking the monthly budget while you schedule bill payments. Schedule date nights to discuss the budget, too, and keep track of it all in a prominent place, like a centralized command center for your whole family.
“Remember that you have to make it work, or you’ll both lose,” he says.
6. Be consistent
Discussing money isn’t done once, then forgotten. Scheduling time together to review your bills, check the progress you’re making on your goals and set new ones can strengthen your relationship with your money, and with one another.
If you’re still having trouble speaking the same money language, you may want to consider talking to a financial advisor or even a financial therapist. These people could help you untangle sticky financial issues and find a comfortable medium so you can move forward with fewer conflicts.
Having a plan can keep money from being a sore spot in your marriage. The more proactive you are about working towards common goals, the bigger the payoff for your finances, and your relationship.