Financial Friday: Why Do We Always Fight About Money?

by David Berky

Two of the keys to financial success, especially in a couple’s relationship, are knowledge and communication. This article focuses on the aspect of communication.

Tom Monson, the Vice President of Simple Joe, Inc. was giving a series of free seminars on personal finance to people in his neighborhood. Many couples were scheduled to attend but only two or three were showing up.

Tom and I discussed the situation and wondered why attendance was so low. We knew many people were interested and several had expressed a desire to learn more about finances directly to Tom. But when it came to showing up for the seminar they seemed to find other things to do.

As Tom and I were discussing this he commented on the behavior and attitude of some of the people who had shown up for the first two seminars. At the first seminar, Tom noticed that several of the husband & wife couples seemed a bit uncomfortable discussing financial matters with each other.

Much of Tom’s seminar involved recognizing and evaluating your current financial situation, setting financial goals and ways to measure your progress. But he was having a hard time getting the couples to discuss financial matters between themselves.

We wondered if these couples may be hesitant to have a frank financial conversation because conversations about money can lead to disagreements and even fights. It has been estimated that over half of all divorces occur to some degree because of disagreements over money and finances.

So maybe these couples were hesitant to get into a public argument about their finances because they know that every time they talk about money they fight. Or they may just have had one or two really bad fights about finances and so now they try to avoid the subject.

I would venture to guess that all fights about money and finances can be boiled down to one of two root problems; lack of communication (or misunderstanding) and selfishness.

Lack of communication occurs when one spouse spends money the other had earmarked for something else. Or when an important financial decision occurs without input from the other spouse. Or when a large purchase is made without the consultation or consent of the other spouse.

Misunderstanding can occur when the couple is hesitant to enter into a financial discussion, has trouble communicating or just has trouble expressing financial ideas. It could be that one spouse does not fully understand a financial concept. Or one spouse is not being patient enough to have a full discussion of the subject.

The need to be right vs. wrong in making financial decisions is often very strong, especially in men. As the historical provider for the family, some men see finances as solely their domain. It can also be a sign of status or ego.

And in a situation where there are financial problems, many men can get defensive easily when the wife questions decisions or situations. This can lead to fights and misunderstandings.

After a discussion breaks down, the husband may feel like the wife is ungrateful for what he does and does not trust him to make correct financial decisions.

Meanwhile the wife may feel like the husband is talking down to her, does not value her contributions to the family and maybe is even hiding something from her.

This can happen when emotions get in the way of communication. It is very important to be considerate of your spouse and be careful how you phrase questions and comments.

Also it is important to ask questions when you don’t know or understand a financial situation or decision. Lack of understanding will lead to future confrontations. The husband may assume that the wife knows the impact of the decision they just made. Then if something goes wrong the husband can get angered at his wife’s questions because, to him, they could seem like an accusation.

Or the wife may do something that the husband does not fully understand and then the husband gets upset because “she did not tell” him what it is she was doing or why.

So how do we solve or avoid these problems of lack of communication and misunderstandings?

The first step is to leave your ego outside the door. You don’t know everything and neither does your spouse. It is important to make sure that both people understand the financial topic, how it affects their lives and what type of decision is best for them and why.

If the wife is stronger in one area of finances, she needs to patiently explain to the husband what she knows and how it affects them. If the husband is more versed in a financial topic he should patiently explain to the wife what he knows.

If neither of them have a good grasp on the subject, “shut up” and go learn something more about it. Also don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of not knowing something. Just because you are the “man” does not mean that you were born with financial genius.

Just because you are the “woman” does not make you an expert on household finances and it in no way means that you are “not capable” of understanding financial topics and concepts. Don’t pigeon-hole your spouse or allow your spouse to gloss over something without an explanation that you both understand and could repeat to someone else.

We all make mistakes and we all have things to learn. Don’t let your pride or your ego get in the way of your financial success. Don’t let the subject of money become a sore spot in your relationship. If you can remember to talk with your spouse in the same kind of patient and respectful way you talk with your boss, your conversations about finances will go much smoother.

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© Simple Joe, Inc.
David Berky is president of Simple Joe, Inc. a marketing company that sells simple software under the brand name of Simple Joe. One of Simple Joe’s best selling products is Simple Joe’s Money Tools – a collection of 14 personal finance and investment calculators. This article may be freely distributed so long as the copyright, author’s information and an active link (where possible) are included.

2 comments

Finances are a difficult subject and it is difficult to maintain an equal “power” position when it comes to money in a relationship. I agree that communication and self interest are two of the factors affecting marriage finances (as they are the issues in other marriage “problem areas” as well). I would also add that money triggers sensitive ego concerns on both sides that takes a great deal of maturity to recognize and overcome.

My tip? Develop a budget together with your spouse so that you agree on what should be spent, what should be saved, and how you will agree to use your “extra” monies or save for things. Include vacation and entertainment in your budget. Then figure out who is in charge of paying bills and distributing the money where it needs to go (per the budget) and see how it goes. Adjust annually to make sure your budget is still reflecting your current situation and also to course correct for any concerns either of you have about how things are being handled.

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