How to have fair fights about money

While I’ve made plenty of money mistakes in my life, I’ve also done some things right. One of those things is the way in which I’ve handled money in my romantic relationships. I’ve managed to navigate nearly thirty years of adulthood without ever having a fight about money. (I’ve had disagreements, sure, but never a fight.)

Contrast this with my parents. My parents fought about money all of the time. It’s one of my most vivid memories from my childhood, actually: Mom or Dad (they took turns) brandishing the checkbook and yelling about the near-zero balance. In retrospect, it’s probably because my parents fought about money that I’ve so steadfastly avoided doing so in my own life.

It’s not just my parents, though. Many couples fight about money. It’s one of the most common sources of friction in relationships.

Knowing this, I think it’s important to be prepared. If you know (or suspect) that you and your partner are going to have future arguments about finances, you should both agree to “fight fair”.

How do you have fair fights about money? That’s the question Tai and Talaat McNeely from His & Her Money answer in this recent six-minute video.

Tai and Talaat say there are three keys to having fair fights about money:

  • Timing. “Timing is everything,” Tai says. Don’t bring up an issue the moment your partner gets home from work. She recommends scheduling a “money talk night” where you deliberately sit down in a comfortable environment to have a conversation about whatever is bugging you. (Kim and I just did this yesterday. We had an issue we needed to discuss that came up earlier in the week. Rather than fighting about it then, we agreed to postpone the discussion until later. Doing so helped us both approach the subject in a calmer, less emotional state.)
  • Respect. Talaat notes that “if [your partner] feels like they’re being disrespected, they’re going to automatically shut down.” Don’t resort to name-calling. Don’t treat your partner like a child. Address the behavior and not the person.
  • Flexibility. Enter the discussion with an open mind. “Don’t go into the conversation already having your point solidified,” Talaat says. “Open up your heart, open up your ears to hear what they have to say.” You’re not going to make any progress if you take the attitude that you’re right, the other person is wrong, and you don’t need to budge on your position. (I’d like to point out that this is true of all arguments — especially political arguments — and not just money disagreements!)

I’d add two more things to this list.

First, focus on the topic at hand. Don’t bring up other relationship issues. Don’t dredge up past arguments. Keep the conversation centered on the current problem and how you, as a couple, can resolve it.

Second, remember that you’re on the same team. You have shared goals and a shared vision. Approach your discussions with the idea that you want to achieve financial success as a couple. If you can do this, the conversation becomes about “How can we figure this out?” instead of “I don’t like what you’re doing, stop it!”.

I’d love to hear from you folks. How have you handled money disagreements in your relationships? Has money been a source of friction? How do you reduce that friction? How do you have fair fights about money?

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There are 3 comments to "How to have fair fights about money".

  1. WantNotToWantNot says 03 February 2018 at 05:56

    No experience with fighting over money, thankfully. It must be very frustrating!

    My spouse shares my frugal outlook and we have always planned for major expenditures (real estate, car, taking all the grandkids on a cruise, or doing a kitchen renovation) and we research them until we are absolutely sure. We are both very good with delayed gratification, so we talk about these larger projects for a long, long time before undertaking and paying for them.

    For instance, we lived without a dishwasher for years (like six years!) before re-doing the kitchen (because a stop-gap dishwasher would have been a different size and would have to be discarded–what a waste); so we appreciated having one again all the more when we did the total reno. Years after having the kitchen done, we still tease one another at the end of the evening about “whose turn it is to do the dishes” (ie. hit the dishwasher button)—so we are still getting a kick out of that purchase.

    We also trust one another with money. An unexpected benefit of living with another frugal soul is that we find ourselves at times having to encourage one another to spend more, to enjoy what we have earned and saved. In the early years of our relationship, when I shopped for clothes, I was so surprised and touched to come home and have him want a ‘fashion show’ so he could see what I had purchased. He never asks what I spent (he trusts me to be frugal) and he expresses genuine pleasure in what I buy. Similarly, I sometimes have to encourage him to spend more on himself. But then, both of us respect our money (which we spent our precious time earning) and neither spends wastefully.

    It comes down to finding a partner who shares a worldview of not squandering money, and having clear goals that you have both signed onto, to which you trust your partner will adhere.

    On the other hand, it is easy to veer from frugality to cheapness. It is tempting to keep moving the goals posts, bearing down hard on one’s financial goals without input from your partner. And then it is important to keep money in perspective, to know when enough is enough, to be flexible and supportive of your partner’s point of view, joyful about some of the little pleasures that money can make possible for yourself and especially for the one you love.

    Of course, the real joys in life cannot be bought.

  2. Steveark says 03 February 2018 at 09:03

    We never fought really about anything, and especially not money. We already knew each other’s views were aligned while we we just friends and when we were dating. Has worked for decades!

  3. S.G. says 05 February 2018 at 08:53

    Forget money, it’s important to learn how to fight constructively to have a healthy long term relationship. These points are really good high level guidance no matter what the disagreement is about.

    I think a lot of people fight to win rather than to solve a problem, and that just leads down the wrong path. And a lot of people can’t focus a disagreement. Every fight is about everything. So it might start at money but winds up about laundry and in-laws and nothing is ever resolved.

    The only thing I would add is to allow the other person room to be wrong. If they feel stupid when you’re done then you did it wrong.

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