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Don’t Let Money Fights Wreck Your Relationship

Take the Fight Out of Money
with the Grounding Method

What’s this?”

What’s what?”

This credit card slip.”

Oh, I went out to lunch with the guys.”

Just lunch? This is way more than that.”

Yeah, we had a few drinks afterwards.”

You blew all this money on drinks with the guys? When we’re supposed to be paying off our credit card debt? I can’t believe you did that.”

What were you doing, going through my pockets anyway? What, don’t you trust me now? I have the right to spend some of my hard-earned money on myself. Not everyone can be like you and live on bread and water just so they can brag about their fat bank balance. It’s like living with Scrooge.”

I’ve had it. I’m not taking any more of this. I’m going to the bank tomorrow and opening up my own account. I’m not tying my finances to a sinking ship.”

Fine. Take a suitcase, too, why don’t you?”

Fighting about money is about more than what’s in your bank account.

It’s about whether you’ll make it as a couple.

Research has found that “conflict over money matters predicts divorce better than other types of disagreement.”1

Money does matter. How you spend it determines the lifestyle you’ll enjoy, the kind of retirement you can expect, and how well you’ll weather economic downturns.

Hook yourself up to someone who has a different attitude towards money, and you’re not just compromising your ability to blow a paycheck on shoes or max out your 401(k)…

You’re compromising your entire future.

Why We Fight about Money

Fighting about money doesn’t automatically put you at risk as a couple.

That’s because nearly everyone does it. 70% of couples, to be exact.2

Heated discussions arise over frivolous purchases, household budgeting, credit card debt, insufficient emergency savings, and insufficient retirement savings.3

What does increase your risk of splitting up is how often you fight.

Couples who fight on a weekly basis are significantly more likely to split than those who fight a few times a month, if at all.

You’re much more likely to fight regularly if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, with no financial cushion if something goes wrong. The more you rely on credit cards, in fact, the unhappier you’ll be at home.

That’s the conclusion drawn by Dr. Jeffrey Dew, faculty fellow at the National Marriage Project, who published his research in the 2009 “The State of Our Unions” report.4

He found that a couple’s relationship weakens as their consumer debt increases. Having assets, on the other hand, strengthens a couple’s bond. Financial security provides a powerful incentive to staying in the relationship, as well as minimizing conflict.

Dr. Dew also found that there was one kind of money fight that seemed worse on relationships than others:

The “feeling that one’s spouse spent money foolishly.”

If you feel your partner spends money recklessly, then you’re 45% more likely to split.

If That’s Not Incentive Enough…

If only you could let someone else settle your money arguments!

Instead of fighting endlessly between yourselves, it would be wonderful if you could bring your budget and bank statements to a financial advisor and say, “Here, you tell us what we should be doing.”

But no one does.

We don’t want to air our dirty laundry in public. Not even our friends know what’s going on with us behind closed doors. It’s too embarrassing.

This is someone you chose to love and commit your life to, and you can’t even agree on something as basic as money?

Besides, we all know that the two big subjects you should never discuss with other people are money and sex. It takes a lot of courage to violate that taboo.

But you have to do something. The sooner, the better. Money problems have a way of getting worse and worse.

Think of what will happen when you plan your wedding and honeymoon, with an average price tag of $35,000. If you manage to survive that, there are more obstacles ahead. Buying a house, having children, paying for college, saving for retirement... You can’t do all that on credit.

Adding to the pressure is the social media factor: the envy you feel as you look at photos posted by friends on their feed. The glorious vacations, the meals out, the new car. Your friends are no different from you. So why do they have so much more? It’s not fair.

There’s a perfect outlet for all the fear and frustration you feel over money:

Your guy.

If he made more money, you wouldn’t be in this situation.

If he knew how to manage money better, you wouldn’t be in this situation.

If he would only agree with you about what to do with your money, you wouldn’t be in this situation.

Did you pick the wrong man to live happily ever after?

We Didn’t Marry for the Money

No one runs a credit report on their future spouse before signing the marriage certificate.

But many later wish they did.

We’re more likely to ask him about his sexual history than his financial history, never considering that money issues are just as contagious once the bank accounts are merged.

Our ancestors would have considered us hopelessly naïve.

For most of history, marriages were seen as strategic alliances, devoid of anything as fluffy as romantic love. Money and power were the primary objectives of choosing a suitable match. His bank account would have mattered—and his family’s, too.

But thanks to the Victorians, who enshrined the notion of love for love’s sake, the institution of marriage changed irrevocably. Love was a good enough reason to marry. Soon, it became the only legitimate reason to marry.

Would you marry a man just because of the size of his wallet? There’s only one right answer: Of course not.

His wealth might add to the pleasure of his company, but marrying for money instead of love is mercenary.

As a result, we’re reluctant to muddy the waters of romantic bliss with practical financial matters. We don’t want him to think that money has any influence on why we’re with him.

And so we step right into the trap.

We end up in relationships where money issues drain our love faster than a leaky bucket. Perhaps we wouldn’t have gotten so involved if we’d asked the right questions first, but we didn’t. Now we’re stuck.

“The State of Our Unions” report on money and marriage reminds us:

[M]arriage is more than an emotional relationship; marriage is also an economic partnership and social safety net.”5

So how well does your economic partnership work?

The Economic Impact of Relationships

The financial implications of your relationship often don’t become evident until you move in together and start acquiring bills under both your names.

On the one hand, two people are often financially stronger than one. Pooling your resources gives you a better chance of affording a mortgage or getting a loan. You can rely on one another’s financial help when crises hit.

But merging your finances doesn’t always lead to increased financial stability.

It can mean taking on his credit card debt or student loans. It can lead to compromising on financial decisions that shouldn’t be compromised on. It can force you to prop up his impulse purchases with money that should be going towards savings.

In extreme cases, it can even mean losing everything.

A wonderful woman who used to cut my hair fell in love with a Spanish businessman. They each had a child from a previous relationship, and she was pregnant with their first child together. She was radiant … until she discovered he’d cleared out her savings to finance his gambling habit.

She started investigating. She found out that the money she’d loaned him to prop up his business had been funneled into gambling instead. His business was on the verge of collapse. He couldn’t pay her back.

She was five months pregnant when she kicked him out for good. She’d hoped to quit work, but she couldn’t now. She had no savings to carry her through those first few months with the baby.

She hated being so angry with the father of her unborn baby, but c’est la vie, she told me. She didn’t need a man. She’d raised one child on her own, and she’d do it again.

We’ve all heard stories like these.

Women whose lives have been ruined by trusting the men they loved.

We often believe that’s something that only happens to other women. It will never happen to us. We make better choices. Our unerring insight into character will never lead us astray.

You can probably guess what I’m about to say:

Never assume it won’t happen to you.

Protect yourself. Don’t rely on your gut when it comes to money.

Be smart. Let reason, not feelings, guide you through financial decisions. If you find it difficult to be objective, get professional advice.

More importantly, don’t confuse love with financial generosity. Your love isn’t measured by how much you spend. Love flows from the heart, not the pocketbook.

Why We Get Touchy with Money

It’s all very well to say we should manage our money objectively…

But how do we do that when the subject has such an emotional charge?

Everyone has strong feelings about money. It means a lot more than a row of numbers on a spreadsheet.

Maybe you feel you never have enough of it. Maybe it confuses you, to the point that you get a migraine just looking at your bank statements. Maybe you hate money so much that you wish we could abolish it entirely and go back to the barter system.

No wonder arguments about money never go anywhere. There’s a lot more to the debate than how much should get spent where.

The way I see it, money is kind of like calories.

Experts say that managing your weight comes down to calories in versus calories out, but it doesn’t feel that easy. For one, you have to track the calories in every single thing you eat, even the snacks you grab on impulse. That simple equation doesn’t take into account how hungry you feel or how much you need a Frappuccino pick-me-up.

Similarly, managing your finances should come down to money earned versus money spent, but it doesn’t feel that easy. For one, you’d have to track every single penny you spend, even your impulse buys. That simple equation doesn’t take into account how deprived you feel when you’re pinching pennies or how much you need those concert tickets.

You can argue all day about how to solve the equation of money in versus money out, but you won’t get far unless you acknowledge the strong feelings at the root of the issue.

We learn how we feel about money at the same time we’re learning how we feel about food:

In childhood.

Our parents teach us our most powerful and enduring lessons about the meaning of money.

Maybe you were taught that you had to work hard for your money, because money doesn’t grow on trees. Maybe you were taught that you deserved nice things and you shouldn’t have to work for them.

Maybe you were taught that a woman should always keep some money separate so that she never becomes financially dependent on a man. Maybe you were taught that a man isn’t a gentleman unless he pays for everything.

Maybe you were taught that education is the only thing standing between you and the poorhouse, or that rich people eat off the backs of poor people, or that being overly concerned about money makes you materialistic and shallow.

Take time to sit down with your partner and talk about what money means to each of you, in the context of your family values.

  • What did your parents teach you about the role of money in life?

  • In what way are your family beliefs different from his family’s beliefs?

  • Is there anything you could learn from one another?

Most of us swallow our family’s beliefs about money unquestioningly. After all, Mom and Dad are grown-ups, so they must know the truth about money.

But one thing is certain:

Mom and Dad didn’t tell you everything.

Financial Education is Non Negotiable

Controversial financial guru Robert Kiyosaki built a fortune off the back of his 1997 bestseller Rich Dad Poor Dad.

The premise?

That we should study the financial habits of those who have achieved financial success, rather than our own families.

At first glance, the idea makes sense. Your family can only teach you what they know about money from their own limited perspective. They can’t teach you what they don’t know.

So, if you want to become better off than your parents, you should seek additional financial education, preferably from financially successful mentors and teachers.

Kiyosaki raised an important point:

All of us could use more education in money management.

No matter how much you already know about making a budget and investing your savings, there’s always more to learn. The financial world is constantly changing. Thinking you know enough about money to get by is a dangerous illusion.

But you’re not the only one who needs to learn. Your partner needs to learn, too.

In many couples, one person handles the money and the other person trusts him or her to do the right thing. Even if that seems to make sense on a practical level, leaving all the money management to the other party can lead to trouble down the road.

Even if you could trust your partner to manage your finances perfectly, you need to know the basics in case the unexpected happens. What if your partner got into an accident and was hospitalized for a month? Would you be able to take care of the bills and investments?

One story that made a huge impact on me came from a friend.

She had been in a long-term relationship with an older man for many years. He always managed the finances, and my friend never asked any questions. She didn’t make as much money as he did, and she sensed that having the financial power in the relationship was important to him.

Then her partner found out he had terminal cancer. He told her that she wouldn’t have to worry; he’d set up an insurance policy that would provide for her after he passed away.

She didn’t want to sully their remaining time together with talk of money, so she took his word for it. At last, the end came. He was hospitalized. When it became evident that he only had days left, she finally worked up the courage to ask where she’d find the insurance policy. He was so out of it on pain medication by then that he couldn’t answer.

After he passed away, she and his family went through his papers. They could find no details of the policy and no record of his promise to her. His will left everything to his sibling. My friend was left grieving and financially destitute.

When money is involved, your involvement as a couple should be 50-50. Even if one of you is the designated bill-payer, both of you should know where your money is going and where the financial documents are kept. This isn’t a matter of trusting one another; it’s a matter of being equal economic partners.

Creating an Emotionally Satisfying Financial Life

For most couples, the goal isn’t to get rich. Having lots of money would be nice, but it’s not the most important thing.

Money isn’t a value in and of itself. It’s a means to an end. Its usefulness lies in its ability to facilitate the experiences we desire, whether that be having a comfortable retirement or living in a nice home.

When you’re trying to make money decisions, you also need to look at the underlying values you’re supporting with every dollar.

Some couples value a simple lifestyle, so they prefer to cut their working hours and live frugally rather than accumulate more money.

Other couples value pleasurable experiences like travel or meals out over having money in the bank, so they save less than they spend.

Financial success looks different to every couple, based on their values. It’s important that your values are in alignment, even if you disagree on the particulars of how you spend money.

Talk to your partner about what financial success means to each of you. See if you can agree on some basic values. Here are some questions to get you started.

What is the purpose of money? What should money do for you? What does financial success look like? What things in life are more important than money? What things in life require money?

What are our financial goals? How much money do we need to feel financially secure? How does debt affect our quality of life? How important is having a house, a nice car, expensive vacations, and so forth?

How much money do we need to get through each month? Is that figure high or low? How is our work-life balance affected by it? Does our money go to support our values?

When you spend the money you earn as a couple in emotionally satisfying ways—whether that be putting a percentage into savings or purchasing a new car on a monthly payment plan—you get more from your money.

You feel wealthier. You feel that your money is going to create the kind of life you really want. You feel good about how you’re spending your hard-earned paychecks. So maybe you’re not going to be millionaires by the time you retire, but that’s okay.

Your money serves you; you don’t serve it.