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Home > Business > Special

The No.1 reason why couples fight

Lisa Smith, Investopedia | January 03, 2008


Sex and money consistently rank among the top two reasons why couples fight. In both cases, one member of the group just can't seem to get enough of what he or she views as a scarce commodity.

However, arguments about money, according to nearly every survey on the topic, generally win out as the top issue. In fact, according to a booklet entitled Making Marriage Last, which is published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, problems relating to financial matters are a major reason why marriages break down.

The facts

Managing your finances is a chore. Like all the chores that couples need to complete (everything from cutting the grass and taking out the trash to washing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom), the division of labor is rarely 50/50.

When it comes to money, one spouse may be more interested in managing it while the other is interested in spending. Sometimes, one spouse won't even talk or think about the topic.

The less interested spouse often views money as a means of control and may believe that the person holding the purse strings gets to make the decisions. While the essence of that view point is accurate, the person managing money often views saving instead of spending as merely the proper way of staying out of debt and never thinks about it terms of control.

Because it is possible for people to have such very different views about money, sometimes its best to seek common ground before discussing exactly how this week's paycheck will be spent. (To learn how to set up a budget, check out our Budgeting 101 feature.)

The rules

To keep money from becoming an obstacle in your relationship, you need set the ground rules for how your household will handle the topic. Put these rules in place before you enter into a spending-related dispute. The middle of an argument is not a great place to try and come to a consensus.

Some good basic rules for how you and your spouse will interact when it comes to making decisions about how your money will be spent include:

1. Don't hide it.

2. Don't lie about it. 

While your spouse won't be too happy about you spending $300 on a new putter or high-end purse, you shouldn't attempt to cover up or lie about your new expenditure. Relationships based on truth are far stronger than those based on deceit.

Once you've both agreed to be honest, you need a way to break stalemates when it comes time to make decisions. The best choice here is that consensus rules. Of course, if you can't find common ground on a particular decision, you should agree in advance that prudence takes precedence.

With prudence as your guideline, you will be more likely to make the choice to save instead of spend when you can't agree that spending is a good idea. Setting up a budget can be a great way to develop a mutually agreed upon vision of your spending and saving habits.

If you set the rules but still can't come to an agreement, consider counseling. Arguing can often be unproductive, and throwing up your hands and walking away accomplishes nothing.

Sometimes an impartial moderator can help frustrated couples see eye to eye. The key is to stay engaged in the process as you develop spending habits that you are happy with as a couple and as an individual.

However, if you dislike dealing with money so much that you willingly delegate all responsibility for spending-related decisions, be willing to live with the consequences of your decision. It's not fair to your partner if you don't help and won't stay engaged, but still complain.

Team work

Making decisions about money is part of building a life together. Building should be a constructive process, so you need to work together, not in opposition. Set goals together and spend your money in ways that will bring you closer to achieving those goals.

If a particular expenditure doesn't lead you toward your goals, avoid the expenditure. Don't let conspicuous consumption lead you astray. If you're working together as team instead of fighting about money, you just might have enough time and energy left over to put some effort into getting that other scarce resource that you've been seeking.


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