Lauren Cobello » Get out of debt » How Do You Fix a Marriage With Financial Problems?
It may feel like the same argument on repeat. Every night, somewhere between walking through the door and turning in, you find that you and your spouse are having the same exact fight. Maybe it’s about how to prioritize and pay down debt. Perhaps you can’t agree on how much to keep in an emergency fund. Maybe you want to prioritize savings, but he is begging for a vacation. This question about how you fix a marriage with financial problems comes up at some point in every relationship, so you’re not alone.
This probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for, but yes, money problems can devastate even the strongest marriage. Unlike some topics of contention, money is ever-present and ever-pressing. Not only are we making decisions large and small every day having to do with our finances, but how we handle these decisions can impact our lifestyles drastically.
Failure to line up on your household accounting can pose frustrating inconveniences; it can also cost you your vehicles or even your home if you aren’t mindful. Making an effort and time to connect and communicate about your finances is critical to having a successful marriage in the long haul, even if it makes for some discomfort at the moment.
Know that your arguments about money are, more than likely, about more than just money. The broader conversation may point to problematic habits, communication issues, or misaligned priorities. Take the time to investigate the source of your arguments, and be ready to accept that money problems might be the symptom of deeper dysfunction. That doesn’t mean your problems are unfixable; it just means that you may need to resolve Point C before visiting point B: this trip may not be linear.
Chances are, you and your spouse were raised with different norms and attitudes when it comes to handling money. Your spending and saving habits may be out of sync, or you may prioritize certain expenses. Step one here is acknowledging your differences.
Do your arguments center around spending in a certain category (groceries, for example) or around one partner’s spending habits? Are you each working toward different financial goals? Is there a stressor– student loans, consumer debt, or job loss– that’s taking a toll on your day-to-day quality of life?
Identifying where your differences and stressors lie can help you to confront issues face-on and find solutions together. Fixing a marriage with financial problems takes effort, vulnerability, and honesty– but it can be done.
Decide on what level of transparency feels right for you both. Perhaps you’re financially “naked” in your relationship, sharing bank accounts and discussing expenses regularly. Or maybe you maintain separate accounts but share expenses and agree on a common goal. However you decide to handle your financial disclosure level, honesty is crucial (even when it’s not comfortable).
Decide that once a month (or more frequently, if you’d like), you’ll set aside a date night to talk about finances specifically. Incentivize yourselves– maybe you line up your favorite cocktails or dessert– and try to set a positive tone for the evening. Like many points of marital conflict, this is something you’ll need to tackle as a team.
This could mean going through bank statements and having an open conversation or checking in on your debts and what you can make happen this month to work toward paying them down. Try to have numbers in front of you for this discussion so that you can avoid the “you always…” or “I never” comments. Make the statements the starting point for this conversation, not one another’s behavior.
Focus on common ground and identify common goals. You may always want a nicer handbag than he approves of, or his taste in craft beer may always be a touch expensive for your taste. Rather than stumbling over the same disagreements week in and week out, identify what your goals as a couple are.
Once you have come up with something that’s motivational and a shared priority, laser your focus as a couple on this priority. Maybe it’s paying off your lowest balance credit card; maybe it’s getting through your child’s soccer season using only cash this year. Perhaps a needed home improvement is at the top of your list or using up some vacation days you’ve both been banking. Whatever will unite your efforts as a couple is an excellent place to start.
Use your first date night to dream up a financial bucket list. This will help you both to start out on a positive note and thinking in the same direction. Dream big together! If you’ve buried that dream of a trip to Greece or a home improvement project, let all things be possible, even if just for one night. Remember that you’re playing for the same team.
Some conversations are best had with a mediator, especially if your arguments have become emotional. Financial therapists are trained to deal with the specific hurdles that couples face when it comes to money. Alternatively, a traditional marriage therapist will be well-versed in helping with the communication issues surrounding your financial problems.
A neutral third party may be part of the solution. Be ready to own your faults, but know that a professional can help to sort out the narrative from the facts. If you’re stuck in the same argumentative loop with your partner about money, a counselor may help you dig deeper and escape the rut you’re in.
Financial infidelity is far more common than you might think. A hidden credit card, an old retirement account you forgot to mention, an income source that your spouse doesn’t know about– any of these assets or liabilities can be a problem if your partner isn’t aware of them.
The more transparent you can be with your partner, the better. Even if some uncomfortable conversations lie between where you are and where you’d like to be, laying everything out on the table is the healthiest thing you can do for your marriage (and for yourself).
In my book The Recovering Spender, I outline the many ways in which you might reach a personal crisis when it comes to money. If you and your spouse are arguing regularly about finances, chances are, you’re at a crisis point (or a few of them), either individually or as a couple.
Don’t be afraid of your boiling point, your crisis, or the real talk that such problems may bring about. Take the opportunity to lay everything bare and start fresh when communicating in your relationship about money. Fixing a marriage with financial issues takes work, but it can be done. Likewise, recovering from financial infidelity does not happen overnight. But the conversation can help to springboard you toward a healthier marriage.
If your arguments always begin with the grocery bill, try reframing the discussion. How much were you able to save at the store this week? Does your receipt share your savings? Take a minute– even if it’s standing up, surrounded by shopping bags together in the kitchen– and transfer that $11 into your vacation fund. Remembering your shared goals will help to strengthen your bond. If you are at a loss of where to start, try my Debt Free Toolbox where I include a video and guide titled, “Stop money fights and with your spouse NOW!” dedicated to getting on the same page financially with your spouse. It will help you stop those money fights FOREVER!