Mrs C reminded me today that my annual appraisal is next week. I’d rather refer to it as our wedding anniversary. But either way, we’re coming up on 17 years. A thriving marriage is difficult to maintain. Which is why we should spend more time celebrating our anniversaries than our birthdays. There are many things that can lead to disagreements in marriage. But the most likely cause of stress in your relationship? Fights about money.
The second most likely cause? Annoying habits. Perhaps I should work on the heavy breathing.
Fights about money
Money doesn’t just cause stress in relationships. About 75% of American adults experience financial stress at least some of the time, regardless of whether they are in a relationship.
But the stress is exacerbated in a relationship as couples often have different financial values. Unsurprisingly, most of us blame our partner’s money habits for the financial stress.
The most obvious place where these disagreements arise is in our spending.
I’m okay, I’m not a spender
There are clear challenges when one partner is a saver and the other is a spender. We tend to think of spenders being the issue. But I have friends who take saving to an extreme. Or more accurately, take their frugality to ridiculous levels.
Including an American friend who felt that a mud hut in Uganda should be more than sufficient for his new wife. Fortunately he realized the problem with his suggestion, otherwise he may still be living in that mud hut.
A more common issue for the frugal is to buy the cheapest version of what they need. There are some quality cheap products out there, but there’s a reason why the phrase “you get what you pay for” exists. Mrs C would admit that this is something she’s struggled with in the past. Particularly when buying me birthday presents.
A spendy partner is likely to lead to fights about money. A close friend once told me that his fiancé was looking forward to being added to his credit card accounts. The credit limits on her cards had been maxed out. Bizarrely, this didn’t seem to be a red flag for him. A couple of years into their marriage they had to cut up the wife’s credit cards in an effort to control her spending. I don’t know if they’d agreed on this approach, or if he’d taken the decision unilaterally. Or if they tried to work on the underlying issues. Sadly, they are now divorced. I don’t know the details, but I’d guess that money played a part.
It’s okay, we’re the same
You would think that when both partners are savers, or spenders who’ve learnt to control their trigger fingers, that there would be no fights about money. But even those who are naturally frugal will have different priorities for their spending.
A former colleague, who was generally very frugal, was happy to drive an old beater so that he could afford a golf membership at a prestigious Scottish golf course. His partner didn’t mind driving a beater, but resented the golf membership. Different priorities.
Its not just priorities, it may also be the amount of the expenditure. In the example above, perhaps my colleague’s partner may have been quite happy with his golfing habit if his membership was at a less prestigious club.
Since both Mrs C and I are naturally frugal, I naively assumed we would have zero fights about money. Our first post-marriage disagreement was about the amount we would spend on Christmas gifts for our families.
It was ridiculous. I was working and have only one sibling and was spending about $100 per parent / sibling. Mrs C, who was still a student, and who had 4 siblings, was used to spending $20 per person. Of course, we each felt the other should ‘compromise’.
I don’t even remember how we resolved it. Which tells you what an absurd disagreement it was.
We never fight about money
A former colleague once told me that the arguments with his wife were about time, not money. She wanted him to be able to spend more time with their young family. He rarely saw them awake during the week because of the number of hours that he worked. But because of the cost of their lifestyle, he gave in to an overbearing boss’ every request as he couldn’t afford to lose his job. Seems like a money fight to me.
Superpower your relationship and your money
Having margin in your financial life releases so much of the pressure. But building that margin takes buy-in from both partners in a relationship.
Being aligned on money in a relationship is a superpower. If you can remove the financial concerns from your marriage, you stand a much better chance of celebrating many annual appraisals wedding anniversaries.
But where do you start if you’re not aligned.
Alignment is key
I was listening to a friend’s new podcast this week. The hosts were discussing the first steps you’d take if you discovered financial independence. They covered a comprehensive list of actions. Much better than I could have come up with. But they missed the first step for those in a relationship.
Getting your partner on board.
There is no point in starting to pursue financial independence if your partner wants no part of it. You’ll only introduce more financial stress to your relationship.
Better to focus your efforts on understanding your partner’s concerns and come up with a plan you can both get excited about.
If you’re not yet in a committed relationship, consider some counselling. Our church ran a pre-marriage course that helped us discuss things like our communication when we had a disagreement, our financial goals (though clearly not the cost of Christmas presents for family), and boundary setting with in-laws. We found it incredibly helpful.
Start with the dreams
After discovering financial independence, I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends about it. They both shrugged their shoulders. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t as excited about the spreadsheets as I was.
They’re just wired incorrectly differently. The numbers don’t interest them. MY problem was, that I was jumping to the detail without discussing the ‘why’.
Now when I speak with friends about the importance of solid financial foundations, I start with their dreams.
What is important to them? What do they want to do? How do they picture their ideal life in 5 years time?
The dream is different for everyone. For some its travelling. Or being a stay-at-home parent. Funding college for kids, or buying a beach house. Perhaps a sabbatical.
What’s my advice if you want to get your partner on board with shoring up your financial foundations and reducing the financial stress in your lives?
Go on a date to a nice restaurant. Ask your partner what their dreams are for your joint future. Dig into the details of those dreams.
Tell them about your dreams, and look for the overlap. Hopefully your partner’s dreams don’t involve blowing up your Death Star.
Don’t take your spreadsheets on your date. Don’t mention money. Just dream.
The natural next step (not during your first dream date!) is to start to talk about how to make the joint dreams come true. Not your dreams. The joint ones that your partner is excited about.
Look at this challenge from the same side of the table. You’re on the same team.
This is just the starting point, but if you’re starting in the same place, facing the same direction, your chances of success are much higher. And there will be less fights about money.
Then you can start to dig into your current spending, with NO judgement for what has gone before. And what may need to change in order to reach those goals. It may not be just spending that needs to change. Perhaps there’s an income problem.
The aim is not to stop fighting about spending. The aim is to use your finances to reach your goals. To have enough financial margin so that you don’t have to worry how you’ll pay for your groceries this month. To thrive.
Lots more to discuss. Perhaps another day. I’ve got my annual evaluation form to complete.
Money is not the goal. Money has no value. The value comes from the dreams money helps achieve.