If you and your spouse argue about money, you’re not alone. According to a 2014 Harris Poll, money is the No. 1 thing couples fight about, and a study by Kansas State Universityfound that disagreements about money are the No. 1 predictor of divorce.
Here are 5 possible way to agree with your spouse about money and avoid money problems.
1. Money Is a Core Survival Issue
Money is an unquestionably emotional issue for many, and a big part of what makes the topic so emotional is money’s connection to our survival. We need money to meet our most basic needs, including food, shelter, and clothing. Because money is so intimately connected to our survival, we have many fears, emotions, and expectations about it. Thus, when we’re stuck in situations where there isn’t enough money, our emotions run high.
A CareerBuilder report found that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to CNBC, and CNN reports that 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense. When couples argue about money, a great deal of the arguments are about these two issues. Half of the Harris Poll survey participants said they argued about unexpected expenses, while 32% said their arguments were about insufficient savings.
2. Financial Struggles Cause Stress & Anxiety
Prolonged financial pressures lead to increased levels of anxiety, and increased anxiety leads to more conflict with spouses. As explained by Deborah L. Price, author of “The Heart is of Money,” “Where people are fearful and anxious about money and their personal finances, they are frequently too overwhelmed and stressed to be focused and present.” This leads to more intense and emotional arguments.
And there are many Americans feeling financial distress. According to the Acorns 2017 Money Matters Report, 42% of survey respondents reported feeling “anxious and depressed” when they thought about their financial future. According to a CNBC report, 85% of respondents to a 2018 survey say they worry about money “sometimes” and as many as 30% of Americans say they worry “constantly” about money.
In addition to getting stuck in the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, one of the biggest financial pressures on couples is debt. According to a 2017 survey by Ramsey Solutions, the larger a couple’s debt, the more likely money is to be a top cause of fighting. By contrast, the survey found that money wasn’t even one of the top five topics debt-free couples fought about.
The 2018 Fidelity Couples & Money Study also found debt to be a top stressor in marriages. Moreover, the study found a correlation between those who identified debt as a primary concern and couples who argued more frequently overall. In other words, couples in debt were more likely to argue in general, not just about money.
These surveys show that the more financial pressures a couple suffers, the more their marriage suffers. However, if couples can find a way to work together to get out from under the burden of debt, it can bring more peace to the relationship. According to Alexandra Taussig, senior vice president of lifetime client engagement at Fidelity, “It’s not the debt you bring into the relationship that matters, but how you work together to handle your debt over the long run.”
3. Our Relationship With Money Reflects Our Values
How we think about money is deeply tied to our ideas about right and wrong and what we value. We get these ideas from all kinds of places — our families, our culture, and even our beliefs about what’s possible for ourselves — and since we all have different backgrounds and experiences, we can bring some very different ideas and values about money into our marriages.
Because money management is so connected to what we feel are the “right” ways to do things, it’s easy to jump to judgment when others don’t deal with money the same way we do. It can also cause us to fear the judgment of others, and that fear can lead to some relationship-damaging actions.
For example, a CreditCards.com survey found that 19% of Americans in live-in relationships are hiding either a bank account or credit card from their significant other. Similarly, the Ramsey Solutions survey found that one-third of those who argued with their spouses about money claimed to have hidden a purchase from their spouse because they knew their spouse wouldn’t approve.
When a spouse hides financial matters from their partner, it’s referred to as financial infidelity. Financial infidelity can be especially problematic in marriages because it breaks down trust in the relationship. In fact, more than half of the respondents to the survey said that financial infidelity was at least as bad as physical cheating, and 20% said it was worse.
Understandably, how we behave with money, which is the direct result of our money values, can have a profound effect on our relationships.
4. Money is Connected to Our Sense of Identity
Money isn’t just about surviving; it’s also deeply connected to our definition of success. In essence, money defines our choices and, in turn, defines us.
Money determines how we dress, where we buy or rent a home, what social groups we join, even what we eat. It can also dictate our future. How well we do at things like paying off or avoiding debt, saving for big goals like buying a home, or investing for retirement affects not only our today, but also our tomorrow.
At its essence, money is a tool — no more and no less. But it’s a tool we use to achieve certain things that define our selves and our lives. So when couples disagree on financial management, it can feel as if they’re arguing less about money than about who they are.
5. Dividing Up Financial Responsibilities Can Cause Conflict
When it comes to financial decisions and responsibilities, couples don’t always work as a team. The APA survey found that only 33% of respondents shared an equal role in household financial decision-making, and only 23% reported shared management of household finances.
Many couples divide up financial roles in a way that naturally causes conflict. For example, one spouse might handle the daily household spending, while the other focuses on long-term savings and investments; the APA points out that those two roles are “naturally at odds with one another.” Thus, the way financial management duties are divided can be an additional source of conflict for couples.