Fighting Over Money? Ways to Seek Common Ground With Your Partner

Setting ground rules, holding recurring check-ins and uniting over shared financial goals can ease tensions.
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Figuring out how to manage money together might be an important part of a happy relationship, but it’s a skill that doesn’t always come naturally.

“When there’s conflict or discord, it’s usually not about the money itself, but related to the meaning each person is attaching to money. There’s always something deeper,” says Cohen Taylor, a licensed family and marriage therapist and behavioral wealth specialist at the registered investment advisory Wealth Enhancement Group.

Getting on the same page as your partner when it comes to finances usually requires a lot of communication and sometimes a little compromise. In some cases, it might include realizing your perception of your partner’s spending habits isn’t entirely accurate.

Here are tips from financial experts on how to see money as an issue to bond over rather than a source of tension.

Expect and prepare for conflict

Before getting serious with your partner, ask them how they learned about finances as a child, Taylor suggests. “We all have these childhood experiences or flashpoints in our lives that create these core beliefs related to money,” she says. If you were told to always save for a rainy day, for example, you might be deeply uncomfortable spending money unless there’s an emergency.

Taylor adds that because we are often attracted to people with money personalities opposite our own, it’s important to understand those differences.

Expecting conflict and preparing to navigate it together can be healthy, says Laura J. LaTourette, certified financial planner and founder of the Family Wealth Management Group. “If you just lean into conflict, it won’t be so scary when you get there,” she says, adding that healthy conflict management includes lots of communication.

Set ground rules

Taylor suggests creating some guidelines you both agree on, such as that any expenditure over $200 requires a conversation first. Then, you can continuously adjust those guidelines as needs and circumstances change.

In blended families where children are involved, those money discussions are especially important, says Mikel Van Cleve, a financial behavior specialist researching financial management within blended families at Texas Tech University. “You need clear boundaries and rules so everyone knows their role within the blended family dynamic,” he says. For example, decide in advance how the adults will share expenses related to the children’s car insurance, cell phone plans and college, which can get complicated.

Establish regular check-ins

“Most successful money couples I’ve dealt with set up a recurring cadence to talk about money,” says Andrew Crowell, vice chairman of wealth management at D.A. Davidson, a financial services firm. That could mean a quarterly or monthly review and includes revisiting spending, savings goals and budgets.

Those meetings can provide a chance to sync on how to trim spending together or to do something fun like set a vacation savings goal, Crowell says. They can also provide a safe space to express worries about credit card debt and similar topics. He suggests starting by sharing your feelings, such as, “I’m feeling worried about our finances,” versus criticizing the other person’s spending.

Explore perceptions versus reality

Sometimes spouses misunderstand each other’s financial behavior, according to Jamie Lynn Byram, a financial counselor who holds a doctorate in financial planning and conducted research on perceptions of spending and saving within marriage. She found that spouses who perceive their partners as “savers” report a higher level of financial satisfaction — but people’s perceptions of their partner’s spending and savings habits aren’t always accurate, she says.

It could be helpful for partners to swap financial roles for a time to gain a greater understanding of what the other person is experiencing, Byram says. For example, the person in charge of household expenses might seem to be spending a lot, but that might just be because those items are so expensive. By taking over all of the household spending for a week, the other partner might realize those challenges.

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Consider separate accounts and shared goals

Some couples find it easier to manage money together if they maintain separate and joint accounts, Crowell says. He worked with one couple that included a husband who loved sports betting and a wife who preferred to avoid taking those kinds of risks. Establishing a separate account for his sports betting that was walled off from their joint accounts helped them to remain happily married, Crowell says.

Returning to shared goals can also promote unity when it comes to financial decisions, according to Taylor. “Daydreaming about what you want your financial future to look like as a couple can give you something to anchor to during times of conflict,” she says.

Perhaps you want to retire at 55 or eventually live in Australia — connecting over those goals can keep you both on the same track, even as you navigate around the inevitable obstacles.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.