Marital Combat - Fighting Over Money
by Ray Linder
Somewhere in some household – maybe yours – one of the following three money fights is happening:
- The spender-saver fight
- Spender: “Let’s go out to dinner tonight”
- Saver: “No, restaurants cost too much”
- The this way-that way fight
- This way: “I’d like a large-screen TV for the family room”
- That way: “If we’re going to spend that much money, what we need is new furniture”
- The now-later fight:
- Now: “We could use a new car”
- Later: “What for? What we have will last a few more years”
Whenever two people with different personalities, experiences, expectations and family traditions try to spend the same money, all those differences make an agreement hard to come by. If you are like many couples, financial conflicts are a frequent source of marital discord. Regardless of whether the amount of money you’re squabbling over is large or small, the argument can feel like a fight for your life. That’s because it is.
The money fight is rarely about money. Usually you are fighting for something that brings meaning and satisfaction to your life; pleasure, independence, control, freedom or security. Something of value is at stake.
What makes money fights so crucial is that the outcome can have a huge impact on your marriage. With so many family financial decisions that need to be made, being on the losing end of those decisions can make you feel as though you got the “for worse” part of the “for better or for worse” marital promise. Eventually, it is difficult not to become resentful for always losing out on those things that have significant personal meaning.
As unsettling or frustrating as a money fight can be, facing the fight the right way can strengthen your marriage. Here are some suggestions on how to turn the money fight into an encounter that opens the lines of communication and builds respect and trust.
Explore Intent, Not Positions
In every fight, there are two stories. Your job is to hear your spouse’s story as well as tell your own. You must discover what the fight means to both of you. What do you want? What does he or she want? More important, why is the issue so meaningful to both of you? What are your individual motivations?
Actively listen and ask questions to build a deeper understanding of your spouse’s story. You want to hear his or her view of the situation. Genuinely ask, “Why is this important to you?”
Take the “Let’s go to dinner” fight for example. Asking why eating out is some important may uncover some legitimate motivations. Your spouse desperately needs a break from cooking and being tied to the house. What he or she is really asking for is a brief reprieve and change of scenery. Now the conversation can move from an argument about money to solving the problem of giving your spouse a break he or she needs.
Don't Debate - Validate
People are more likely to listen and cooperate when they believe their desires and concerns have been heard. Rather than debate or rebut your spouse’s point of view, validate it with statements such as “Let me see if I understand what you are saying” or “If I heard you right, what matters to you is…” It’s also important to avoid bringing up past, unresolved disagreements with sweeping statements such as “You never…” or “You always…”
Validating your spouse’s desires shows you understand that his or her perspective is reasonable and normal. Your validation communicates respect and love.
In every marriage, money fights are a challenge. But how you have that fight will determine whether the disagreement ends for better or for worse.