Did you know that finance is one of the top reasons why couples fight? It's also one of the top reasons why married couples divorce! And even though divorce rates dropped as couples stay together due to tight finances, no studies have been done as to what happens to their happiness level.
But you can guess where it is as well as I do. Bonnie Booden, family law and divorce attorney in Phoenix, said that about half of his clients who seek his advice wanted to know other options because they couldn't afford a divorce.
Fortunately, there's more we can do to prevent financial arguments in a marriage, and often, it's easier than you might think. Here are the 7 most common reasons why financial arguments ensue – and how to stop them.
1. Communication of Assumptions
Communication is crucial if you want a lasting relationship, and that includes your finances too. The problem is communication is a skill most people are never taught well in school!
Here is a classic communication mistake. Let's say your spouse comes to you and told you, "I am going to buy a new pair of shoes." What would you assume? A couple of things:
- He/She may have broken his/her shoes.
- If not, he or she probably needs a new one for something special.
- If not, he or she probably didn't have that kind of shoes. E.g. a pair of running shoes.
- He/She knows our finances and can determine the reasonable amount of money to spend on a pair of shoes.
Of course, those assumptions are hardly ever all true! Imagine if your spouse comes back from the shopping trip to show you a pair of $500 shoes because he/she "needs another one for the office." And you've planned to spend that $500 on groceries!
To prevent this kind of scenario from happening, always be very specific when you communicate. "I would like to buy running shoes and I will spend $150 max."
Your spouse probably has a very different set of assumptions and priorities so make sure he/she is always up to date.
To be fair, most of us don't intentionally hide things from our spouse, yet we do it without knowing it. For example, if you spend $10 daily on "small things" like coffee, a chocolate bar, and a cup of juice that would amount to $300 a month.
No problem would arise if you can afford it. But in a family where the budget is tight, these sparks would inevitably cause a fire.
Most families today have two working parents. Unfortunately, most women who work are paid less even if they are just as capable and hardworking. This often causes a sense of inequality. Husbands expect to get special treatments because they make more money (which they associated with working harder). Wives expect the equal division of labor because they think they worked just as hard.
Envy can quickly arise when both parties think the other is having it better! When, in fact, no one is having an "edge" over the others.
This kind of misunderstanding is common even outside of the house. Money is often unconsciously viewed as power and the person who holds it tends to behave that way. A simple solution is to simply be aware of your behavior – and sit down to discuss the labor division beforehand.
4. Different Priorities
Despite all communication, some couples still have trouble resolving their differences in financial matters. This is because much of what they are thinking is subconscious.
For example, both parties may be "health-conscious". So one day your spouse bought a treadmill without your knowing! His/her defense, "But we both like to walk!"
For your spouse, health may be number 1 in their priorities. If he/she needs to spend a couple of thousand dollars to achieve it, so be it. You, on the other hand, may also be health-conscious, but it may be as important to you as say financial security. You do what you can to be healthy, as long as it doesn't cost too much.
Can you see how easy it is to argue over nothing? So sit down with your spouse and list out your priorities, in the order of importance. The order is just as important as what your priorities are.
5. Different Idea of Fun
Just as you may share a different order of importance with your spouse, it's also likely that you may have a different idea of what "fun" is. First of all, most couples don't even have a "fun" budget. Do you? A fun budget allows you to spend the money on what you like most and therefore motivates you to stick to the budget.
The problem arises when it comes time to spend that money. Should we go shopping or diving? Most couples would arrive at this conclusion: compromise. Take the family out for an outing. Don't.
Taking your family out is no doubt crucial, but it is also crucial for you to invest in yourself. Divide the "fun" budget into two and neither party can complain about how the other one spends that money. Create another budget account for family outings.
6. Making More
Many times, though, even the strictest budget in the world couldn't save a loving couple from arguing about money. The reason is that they simply don't make enough to make ends meet. When that happens, one party would demand the other party to make sacrifices. Haven't I sacrificed enough?
I will not be debating the rights and wrongs, but when you are not making enough to make ends meet, then spend more of your time and effort on making more! I know, easier said than done.
But here's the thing: I also witness lots of couples who argue about what to sacrifice and how to budget, and how to spend the money… but never thought of making more! There's only so much you can sacrifice and manage!
7. Managing Risks
Last, it's all about the level of risks you and your spouse are comfortable with. In general, men are more comfortable with risks than women. It's in our genes.
So when it comes to making more money, husbands may be more risk-taking. Why not refinance our house and invest it in another property? Why not buy stocks and flip them? Wives, on the other hand, may prefer to pay off the mortgage, get debt-free, and be done with it.
That difference in risk tolerance alone is enough to make a couples life a nightmare! Husbands may resent their wives for "holding them back" and wives may accuse husbands of trying to "bankrupt" the place. There is, unfortunately, no easy way to resolve a difference in risk tolerance. But here's a light bulb that may help you: your spouse is doing whatever he/she is doing because he/she only wants the best for you. It's probably not about him/her at all!
That light bulb alone may open you to a different perspectives and hey, who knows, maybe your spouse is right about that refinancing after all?