If stressing out about money is the worst, then stressing out about it to the point that you start fighting with your partner is the absolute worst. But, unfortunately (as you’re probably aware), it’s a pretty inevitable issue that most couples grapple with at some point.
“Along with sex, extended family and division of household labor, money is one of the main topics over which I see couples fight,” says licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago. “Money can impact our survival, and when that’s threatened, it can bring out some of our more primitive responses.”
And money stress doesn’t just make us behave badly. Regularly feuding about finances can damage the overall health of your relationship. In fact, board-certified psychiatrist Daniel Bober says that regular money stress is the biggest predictor that a couple will get divorced.
One reason money’s such a pressure point for most of us is that it highlights vulnerability, says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?. “It impacts a couple in so many ways, from their day-to-day lives to their aspirations,” she says. “Money can also bring up difficult issues and feelings like inadequacy and fear of failure.” That’s some serious stuff. In the interest of not letting your bank account balance drive a wedge between you and your S.O., here are some smart tactics to keep communication flowing and money-fueled fights at bay.
Talk about how money was handled when you were a kid
It’s important to understand where your S.O. is coming from when money is involved, says Klow. Maybe your partner grew up in a household where money was tight and that’s why he or she freaks out at the idea of spending any disposable income, or maybe they come from a family of free spenders and can’t relate to the idea of being tight with funds. “Getting a better sense of one another’s background and values around spending can help you create a collective plan for your financial life,” he says. “Clearly communicating and working together around finances can alleviate a lot of potential money stress.”
Make a budget — and stick to it
Sure, it’s the opposite of romantic, but it’s necessary. Be realistic about what you can and can’t afford and have the difficult conversations with your partner that might go along with that, Durvasula says. And no, that doesn’t mean sacrificing date night. There are plenty of cheap dates that will keep the romance alive without running up your credit card balance.
Again, not cute, but it’s important to figure out ground rules that you can both live with, says Bober. For instance, agree that you have to talk to each other first if you want to spend more than a certain amount each week. You may have to do a little give and take here. Bober says it’s crucial to acknowledge your differences, but find common ground to minimize fights about your rules down the road.
Have budget meetings
It sounds like something that should be left at the office, but communication and check-ins are key when it comes to managing your budget. “A budget is not a one-time deal — unfortunately, it has to be dealt with on a regular basis,” Durvasula says. To keep it from being a way-too-serious activity that you both dread, Durvasula recommends building in something fun like a nice meal or a movie that you’ll watch together afterward. Hey, rewards work!
Unite over goals
It can be soul-sucking to follow a budget with no payoff in mind, so Durvasula recommends having some shared financial goals that you’re working toward, like a vacation, down payment on a house or new car — whatever works that will put you on the same page and motivate you financially.
Call in a professional
If all else fails and money stress is taking a deep toll on your relationship, Durvasula recommends bringing in professional help, like an accountant, couples therapist or both. They should be able to help set you on the right path — sometimes a mediator is just what two fuming partners need to see just how much they actually agree on and move forward together with clarity.