5 steps to stop feuding financially with your partner

by Davies Otwell
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Being on the same page and having a way to talk about money is crucial for a stable financial future

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The statistics aren’t great for couples who argue about money. Being on the same page and having a way to talk — rather than fight — about money with your partner is crucial for a stable financial future. Whether you and your partner stay together or go your separate ways, what you do now will impact each of you for years to come.

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Talking about money with your partner can seem a bit strange at first, because most of us didn’t grow up doing that. We may have watched the adults in our life manage on a shoestring from one crisis to the next, but they didn’t talk to us about the choices they were having to make. Alternatively, we may have grown up in a home where money was plentiful without knowing how it’s being managed in the background to afford the lifestyle we were living.

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For many of us, our home life fell somewhere in between and we learned how it felt to try to balance priorities. Even then, nowhere along the way did anyone explain to us the ins and outs of managing money, let alone with a significant other.

We bring all our financial experiences with us when we enter romantic relationships. The values we developed over our formative years influence our spending choices. I often see someone trying to save a lot when they’ve grown up in a family that struggled because they saw how hard living paycheque to paycheque was.

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That can cause conflict with a partner who spends on “extras” because they value some recognition for their success or status, or don’t feel that debt is a big deal. It may cause arguments about excessive spending and incurring debt versus saving for emergencies.

This may lead partners to keep secrets from each other or question each other’s choices in a way that starts to break down the relationship. Even positive secrets about saving can be perceived negatively in such situations.

It can be hard to remember that each person is making choices based on their own values and beliefs around money when we’re in the midst of not agreeing with our partner. No choice is better or worse than the next, but finding a happy middle ground that works for both people takes compromise and communication.

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It takes a two-pronged approach to get onto the same page when arguments about money are based on a communication gap: develop a way to talk about money without arguing and implement a financial fix. We have talked about strategies to manage money as a couple in the past, so let’s tackle some tips on how to talk to your spouse about money.

Set aside time to talk about money

Schedule it in your calendars and ensure you have a predetermined end time for your appointment. By limiting the time and topic, it’s easier to listen and focus on solutions.

Progress, not perfection

Leave your judgment behind and know that you don’t have to agree on everything. Money management isn’t about being perfect; it’s about working together, drawing on each other’s strengths and agreeing to disagree (for now).

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Avoid the blame game

The debt is there. The money has been spent. The bills are past due. Now what? Draw a line in the sand and start from there. Decide how best to organize your finances to end the financial feud.

Start by working on what you can agree on

At some point, you’ll need to outline a budget that accounts for all sources of income, bills and debts, household expenses, savings and costs that crop up seasonally or once a year. You’ll likely have different ideas about how to balance your budget to ensure you don’t spend more than you bring in. Rather than argue or come to a frustrating stalemate, leave it for a day or even a week. Regroup and see if you can try talking about it again later. In the meantime, work on what you can agree on so that you’re still moving forward.

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Set joint financial goals

Working on something together, even a jigsaw puzzle or paddling a canoe around a lake, can bring you and your partner closer. Set a goal to save for something you can enjoy together within the next six months. A special date night, weekend getaway, some paint and trim to fix up the spare room or even bi-weekly payments to completely pay one bill off. Success with one goal will show you that you really can do it, so the next ones won’t seem like such a challenge.

If it gets to a point where you and your spouse can’t figure things out, don’t wait too long before asking for professional help. A non-profit credit counsellor in your area can help you work on your finances. A clinical counsellor can help with communication strategies. Your medical doctor can help with mental health and addictions that one or both of you might be facing. Go easy on yourselves as you work towards your combined financial future.

Sandra Fry is a Winnipeg-based credit counsellor at Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization that has helped Canadians manage debt for more than 26 years.


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