Many couples find it hard to talk about money. Some try, but it often turns into an argument. Others have given up trying or avoid the topic altogether, which sadly, hasn’t solved their problems either.
There are many reasons why couples have trouble communicating about money. Here are 4 you might recognize:
1. Different Experiences with Money
How financial matters and money were discussed and handled in previous relationships will influence how someone handles money in their current relationship. Everyone has a past – the way-back past to when they were a child growing up, as well as the more recent, adult past.
Some people had an opportunity to learn money management skills growing up; many didn’t. In some households, money was tight, so as an adult, someone may try to take steps to avoid the consequences of not having enough money. For other families, having enough money was never the issue; so as an adult, learning how to make wise choices is important.
2. Different Communication Styles
Most people don’t choose to talk about money. And when they do, it can bring out the worst in some. People typically communicate in certain ways:
Some people are quite passive and avoid expressing their thoughts and feelings. By not asserting themselves, they often feel resentful, anxious or even hopeless. When it comes to money, someone else might then make the decisions about spending, saving and taking on debt for them, making them feel like they have no say or no control.
Other people are overly assertive and express themselves in a powerful, “my way or the highway” manner. These types of aggressive communicators can be seen as taking over. They are often uncertain but try to dominate conversations to compensate. In a spousal relationship where both people want to work together to achieve goals, it’s important that financial decisions are shared fairly.
With a passive-aggressive communicator, what you see is not necessarily what you get. It is hard to trust someone when they don’t send clear messages about what they want or what their intentions are. A lack of trust in a relationship can bring out the worst in people, making someone think that their partner is being sneaky. Revenge spending or financial infidelity are ways people sneak around with money.
Assertive communicators share their thoughts and feelings respectfully. They are up front and honest without putting someone else down. They also know how to listen and reflect on what they are hearing from the other person.
Secrets about spending, saving or debt get in the way of open and honest communication and can be detrimental to personal relationships.
And secrets have a way of coming out when we least expect them: at the bank when a joint loan application reveals more than someone expected; a credit card bill that the other person knew nothing about; purchased items stashed in a closet rather than proudly displayed.
Differing values can make it hard to communicate with a spouse about money because each person has different ideas about what is important and what they want to do with their money.
Simply put, values are what is important to us. That’s why when a couple argues about money, the real issue they’re arguing about is much deeper and harder to see.
We decide what our values are through experience, which means they could change throughout our lives. Some factors that influence our values include: our level of education, culture, age, gender, family makeup, medical and socio-economic conditions, marital status, as well as societal influences and expectations.
When it comes to our finances, we tend to spend money on things we value. For example, when someone values safety and security, they may want to keep their savings account at a certain level, stick to a budget and avoid excessive debt. If someone values freedom and excitement, they may throw caution to the wind with their money and spend more recklessly.
What Can You Do If You and Your Spouse Argue About Money?
Don't let these four reasons why couples fight about money become four pillars or obstacles that get in the way of your relationship. If you and your spouse fight rather than talk about your finances, take steps to create a Money Action Plan (MAP) so that you've got a budget you can work with together. There are webinars to help you get started.
Related article: How to Start Talking with Your Spouse About Money