Many couples struggle with money-related tensions in their marriage. These tensions or arguments can leave couples feeling stressed and defeated and thinking that if they only had more money things would be better.
Well-known Christian social researchers Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn spent three years conducting several national surveys about money tensions and relationships and analyzing the data. The Feldhahns document their findings in the book “Thriving in Love and Money.”
They found that 44% of couples openly fight about money but 92% of couples experienced tensions around money.
They found that it was often not the nuts-and-bolts financial decisions or the income level which predicted money tensions.
“You can make great investments, create a budget, have no debt…and still have tensions about money! You can still be confused about your spouse’s decisions and frustrations – and even your own…When we have conflict around money, it’s not about the money. Otherwise, on financial issues, rich people would never fight! Instead, it’s about things under the surface that we don’t even realize are there. How money makes us feel. Insecurities and fears. How we process things – and how our spouse does.”
Dangerous Money Dynamics
The surveys revealed 26 negative money dynamics that contributed to money tensions in a relationship. Some dynamics were more dangerous to a relationship than others since they contributed to larger and more numerous relationship problems. The 26 dynamics, listed from most dangerous to least dangerous were:
1) Resentment/anger (Why do I have to be on a budget when we have plenty of money? Why won’t he/she realize how tight things are?)
2) Blaming the other person or feeling shame and embarrassment yourself (They/I shouldn’t have bought it.)
3) Resignation (Fine, have it your way.)
4) Frustration/irritation/annoyance (Why don’t you see things the way I see things?)
5) Exhaustion (How many times do we have to have the same conversation?)
6) Actual fighting/significant arguing/raised voices
7) Pride (one person doesn’t want to admit they were wrong)
8) Martyrdom (I’ll sacrifice even if you won’t or because you won’t)
9) Feeling defensive (I’m not wrong. I shouldn’t have to explain myself. You’re not my boss.)
10) Superiority/derision or feeling judged/condescended to (I know how to handle money better. I’m not wasteful like you.)
11) Checking out/ignorance about the situation (Just do what you want to do. I don’t care.)
12) Not on the same page/disagree/different goals (example: save hard for future vs. enjoy life now)
13) Entrenchment (escalation, no compromise)
14) Disappointment/discontentment because of unmet expectations (You should just know I needed that. You should know we can’t spend money that way.)
15) Hiding receipts or purchases (to avoid fights or judgement)
16) Retaliatory spending (You bought something so I will buy something. You hurt me so I buy something)
17) Misalignment/lack of clarity on goals (Saying “we don’t have the money for that” when you do but don’t want to spend on that item)
18) Mismatch of impulsive versus planning tendency (I want that now versus we didn’t plan for that)
19) Not talking about money/avoidance
20) Not feeling cared for (I don’t feel prioritized or listened to)
21) Doing money separately/excluding yourself/excluding one party
23) Fear about losing control
24) Unpaid bills because of miscommunication/avoidance
25) Silent treatment/withdrawal
26) Ignoring agreements/decisions
You’ll notice that actual fighting is only number 6 on the list and things like worry and anxiety are less dangerous to the marriage than many other things. Be honest, do you see yourself anywhere on this list with how you relate to your spouse around money issues?
Big Impact Solutions
Thankfully, this research didn’t just identify a big list of harmful behaviors but identified three high-leverage solutions. Couples employing these three solutions were much more likely to experience healthy conflict resolution around money management in their relationship.
The three high-impact solutions were:
1) Build financial cushion for discretionary purchases
2) Be able to talk about money
3) Understand what is underneath how we and our partner respond to money
These solutions are listed from least important to most important. In other words, couples who had financial margin but didn’t talk about money were worse off than couples with no financial margin but who talked regularly about money.
Understanding the feelings and thoughts underneath how we or our spouse respond to money was by far the most important solution and served as the foundation for the other two.
If you’d like to improve the way you and your spouse relate to each other around money, the book offers helpful questions and assessments to get you started to understanding yourself and your spouse and having better money discussions.
Interestingly, several of the negative dynamics can be addressed with the help of a financial advisor. Things like goal misalignment (12 and 17), not talking about money (19), excluding one spouse from money decisions (21) and anxiety and fear about finances (22 and 23) can all be aided through the financial planning process.
If you’d like help clarifying your financial goals and getting on the same page with your spouse, give us a call today!
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