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In 1998, US states spent $30 billion in funds on correctional services and $24 billion on social welfare.

Why do couples fight over Money?

Many studies found that finances are the number one reason for divorces in the United States, and also one of the main reasons married people fight.

What is it about money that possesses such a problem? Lack of money? Definitely not since the level of fighting does not significantly decrease with the increases of income. Is it the distribution of money? The mishandling of money? The lack of financial education? Is it something that can be “fixed”? With the divorce rate of over 50% for first marriages, and even higher than that for second and third marriages, understanding the “money issue” and finding common ground on money is extremely important for couples. It is a situation of “to be or not to be” when it comes to marriage and money.

As surprising as it may sound, money is NOT an issue. Money is just pieces of green papers. That’s all! Its all about what money REPRESENTS. And here it gets a bit more complicated. People come into the marriage with different values, views, habits, and symbols. A median age at which people get married for first time is around 25.5 years old for females and 27 years old for males. For the first 25-27 years of one’s life, they’ve gotten used to their “ways of doing things” which they are comfortable with.

They say “opposites attract”. That’s how different psychological types and styles -- hoarders and spenders, planners and dreamers, worriers and avoiders, pursuers and withdrawers, find each other. But then, how do you come together, when you are so different?

Money is a topic that is rarely discussed before the marriage. It’s not considered romantic enough to talk about money. However, it is advised that couples discuss money, if not before the marriage, then during the marriage, and, according to studies, couples do so, but, obviously, do not succeed in terms of results.

What many people do not realize is that values are deeply rooted in our history and life experiences, so they have to start from the very beginning – childhood. Based on the environment a person grew up in, on the way parents handled money, and on what money represented in the family, it’s easier to understand a person’s style when it comes to money.

Let’s discuss what money could represent in different families. Money is a tool of accomplishing one’s life goals. Different people have different goals in life, and thus, money represents different things to them. Money and material items could be equaled to love and affection, stability and security for the future, control or dependency, independence and freedom, and much more.

If a person was brought up in a family, where expensive presents were given as a sign of love, affection, and care, they would expect to get the same treatment from a loved one when they grow up. I heard so many women say “a sign that a man loves me is when he gives me expensive gifts. Otherwise, he’s not caring.” And, no, they were not gold-diggers. They were mature and accomplished individuals. They just didn’t understand how you can “be cheap when it comes to your loved one”. If this person marries someone who was taught from early on that you should not “waist money” and should only get worthwhile, meaningful, basic things, they will definitely be at odds. That second person thinks that by saving money and working on stability of the family, he shows caring, but the first one doesn’t see it that way.

In a family, people could have different spending habits. Spending is of one the most common reasons couples fight about money. In many families, women buy groceries and items that are needed on a daily and weekly basis, while men are the experts on a major buys such as cars, vacations, stereos, etc. Falsely, it seems like a woman is spending too much since she’s making purchases more often. But, in reality, they are spending very similar amounts of money. Understanding this issue might save many days of arguing. Budgeting might solve the problem.

Dealing with debt is one of the major money obstacles. After all, most Americans are in debt. So, even of one partner is handling finances well, another one’s mishandlings may ruin their financial history. Then, the finger-pointing might come into play, with pointing out “who is at fault”. The bottom line is that it’s a joint debt and it has to be figured out together how to pay it off.

Traditionally, families have had joint accounts from the time when only a man worked. Nowadays, whether to merge finances is a concern many new couples face. Even though women are still making 75 cents on every dollar a man makes, some women find it more comfortable to have either separate accounts or both – a joint account and a separate one. It works for some couples since they feel like they have control of how they spend money earned by them. In the scheme of things, the money is still joint. But, psychologically, it gives people a better feeling. Some couples told me they stopped fighting over money after they separated their finances. The downside of this method is if “something happens”. If one partner looses a job, he/she will have no income coming in, so do they ask the other one for money? Or do they start sharing money? There is no definite answer to that, but it needs to be discussed in advance. Also, if people are in different salary brackets, then another question arises – do they share main/joint expenses equally or contribute based on their salaries. This is definitely something that needs to be discussed beforehand.

Based on polls, at least 30% of people have kept secrets over money, whether it was about a debt or a price of an item they bought, from their partner. I am sure it will not be a surprise for the reader that lying can ruin a relationship. Sooner or later, your spouse will probably find out about the hidden debt, and in addition to them finding out, they will also realize that they’ve been lied to.

Control is another reason so many couples fight over money. Money lets us get the things we need and want, so the person who is bringing in more money might have an urge to feel “more important” and believe that they are entitled to more power in decision-making. There are so many movies, books, and other publicity that shows that money and power go together in the world, however, that does not go very well with intimacy. In any case, it’s up to the couple to decide who will be responsible for money decisions. And, if one is good at it and willing to take the responsibility, while the other one has no interest in “dealing with financial concerns”, this might be a way to go, as long as they are both comfortable. The thing to always keep in the back of the head is that the second person should still be on top of “what’s going on” in case of emergency. No one wants to be in a situation where they are left by themselves and don’t even know what’s their financial state, where the financial documents are, and what their responsibilities are.

Where do you start? What are the good questions about money to ask and areas to explore? And, what should be your course of action afterwards?

1. Find out what values you hold as an individuals, and what exactly money represents to each of you. Share childhood experiences. See where you agree and where you disagree. Come up with some common ground.

2. Come up with the future goals and dreams together. This will motivate you to work together on achieving them. It could also be a bonding experience.

3. Agree to sit down again at a later time (next month, for example) to talk about your progress.

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