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”.
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?