Skip The Squabble
When I first met my husband, I was so smitten that money wasn’t even on my radar. But after we wed, it was clear that although we mostly wanted the same things—a house, a child, a pool table (him), a turquoise Vespa (me)—we had no compatible way of meeting those aims. I thought he seemed blasé about improving our lifestyle; he thought my harping over money was annoying. Money spats are irritating, but more important, they can hurt a marriage: A 2009 study from Utah State University found that pairs who argue about finances once a week are 30 percent more apt to divorcethan those who do it less often. The key: Learn to talk about money concerns the right way and you’ll trade conflict for canoodling.
Bad day at work? Don’t cave in to the urge to vent about your mate’s $300 worth of music downloads. Instead, bring up the issue when you’re calm and focused. No calm moments in your day? Make a money date for the near future.
“I tell couples to keep talks to 17 minutes,” says Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover.The specificity gets people’s attention, so they’re more likely to adhere to the limit, put aside differences and be constructive, rather than devolving into a series of unrelated accusations.
Instead, give this a go: First, describe the impact of the issue on you. (“I’m nervous about retirement.”) Then state your wish. (“I’d love to see if we’re saving enough.”) When I tried this method, instead of my usual, “Why do you have your head in the sand about our future?!” my husband, even though squirming a bit, actually ended up answering, “OK, what do you mean, exactly?” Progress!
Tackle One Thing
Your talk will be less charged if you stick to a bite-size topic (e.g., limiting ATM withdrawals). “Once you’ve solved a few tiny issues, you’ll be more confident about resolving big stuff,” says Barbara Nusbaum, Ph.D., a financial psychologist in New York City.
Plumb Your Past
“Swap stories about your financial upbringing—who paid the bills, how your family treated debt,” Nusbaum says. The point isn’t to convert your partner but to know where you’re both coming from. “Your feelings are always percolating below the surface. If you ignore them, they’ll cause trouble,” she says. I get that. In my home, money was cause for anxiety; there was always the drive to earn more. My husband grew up in a middle-class home in a wealthy suburb, and he hated all the designer-label flashing. To him, my striving smacked of materialism. Once we understood each other, we both felt less defensive. Not only have we stopped our sniping, but we’ve managed to agree on a monthly savings goal, and we’re stashing away money to reach it. That’s been good for our bank account, my peace of mind and our marriage.