Finances: The Hot Button for Couples and What You Can Do About It

Money is one of the leading causes of stress and conflict in a marriage. Entering into a marriage with debt and a lack of complete honesty about money are two factors that cause stress. Blending families can add additional financial pressures, such as child support payments. But one of the most important factors in money conflict, I have found, is differing “money personalities.”

People’s attitudes towards money are strongly affected by their personalities and their experiences. Often, the way a person’s parents dealt with money will frame that person’s response to money as an adult. There are a variety of ways to define money personalities, such as spenders, savers, those who see money as a status symbol, those who see it as a means of security, and those who see it as a means to help others. All of these personality types have positive and negative sides, and most people straddle different styles. The challenge for a married couple is for each of you to understand your relationships with money, then determine how those can be blended for a healthy shared view of money. 

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Sit down together and lay everything out on the table – figuratively and literally. You’ll need to discuss your emotional response to money and be ready with details of your income, expenses, and debts. 

First, have a little fun with finding out your money styles. There are lots of different “money quizzes” online, but remember that they tend to have an “all or nothing” approach – you’re either this or that, when in fact, most of us are a blend of types. Take the quizzes with a grain of salt and let them be a chance to laugh together and a springboard for deeper discussion. 

It’s important to treat each other with respect as you go through this process. Some of the reasons for our money usages can actually be very sensitive. For instance, if a man grew up with parents who were constantly worrying about money and never seemed to have enough, he may demonstrate an intense need to save, even when he has plenty of money, because of the fear and insecurity he learned as a child. On the other hand, he might become a spender, not wanting to experience that sense of deprivation ever again. 

Once you both understand each other better, you can look at your finances. A healthy corporation will not remain a healthy corporation for long without clear financial statements, financial goals, and financial budgets. Neither will a marriage. Sit down at least yearly to discuss your goals for the short-term, mid-term, and long-term. When you know your big picture plans, you can make a budget, occasionally reviewing it for accuracy. Include saving for the future, but also include some “fun money” in the budget. 

Lay some ground rules. Decide what expenditures should be discussed before they occur and which ones can be made without discussion. If one of you is more of a spender than the other, try to find a happy medium. You may also consider a separate “fun money” budget for each of you. But it’s important to stay within the allotted amount and not go over it without first discussing it with your spouse.

If you and your spouse have very opposing styles – for instance, one’s a saver and one’s a spender – you will have to work very hard to develop a plan for financial harmony. However, most couples should be able to find a happy medium. Some even gradually redirect a money style. A husband who saves because of childhood poverty could be encouraged to turn his experiences into a combination of developing good saving strategies while also budgeting an allowance to help others in poverty. 

Get help working through your budget – and your marriage

If you’re having trouble working through the process, don’t hesitate to get help. Some of you might benefit from the help of a financial planner. Other couples might benefit from the guidance of a religious leader or a support group. Others may find their marriage needs the help of a counselor. Whatever you need, reach out for support to eliminate money as a source of friction in your marriage.

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