How do you argue reasonably about finances?

Money, money, money! This is certainly a hot topic among couples. And for good reason – money is symbolic to many of our emotional needs and consequently provokes us.

Are you newlyweds? If so, a likely solution to your arguments may be as simple as coming up with a budget by itemising your expenses, looking carefully at your income and assets, scheduling regular bill-paying, and planning your financial future. My experience with couples early in their relationship is that many simply have not had the necessary conversations about how bills will be paid, what accounts (joint or separate) they will come from, who will physically pay the bills, and how they will plan for the future. When these conversations are absent, resentment begins to grow and what started out as a simple matter of budgeting grows into a perpetual issue. If your relationship is not new and you are fighting repeatedly about money, this suggests a perpetual issue.

Arguing about money on a surface level

A perpetual issue is one that keeps coming up again and again in your relationship. Perpetual issues make up the majority of conflict in close relationships. This is because each person brings to the relationship their own personality, history, thoughts, beliefs and values. The merging of these two belief systems, lifestyle needs, and general personality differences around a topic that provokes a lot of emotion, contribute to the intensity and continuous nature of the argument.

One reason why couples argue about money repeatedly and can grow into a perpetual issue is that couples tend to argue about it on a surface level

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One reason why couples argue about money repeatedly, which can grow into a perpetual issue, is that couples tend to argue about it on a surface level. For example, if you and your partner fight about spending versus saving, you are merely discussing the budget. In order to provide some understanding on both of your parts, what you really need to start talking about is what money means to each of you. Money has many meanings – security, power, control, freedom, just to name a few. Each individual has certain ideas about what money represents and those thoughts dictate how they behave.

Spending versus saving

For example, one of my clients views money as freedom – the freedom to live life as it comes and to enjoy life’s luxuries. Her husband views money as security. Money is a means to establish a secure base for the future. You can imagine that they have had many “discussions” regarding how money is spent and/or saved in the household.

The saver does just that – saves extra money to maintain a sense of security (or other word that represents what money means to them) for the future. The spender does the opposite – spends the extra money to maintain a sense of the freedom (or other word that money represents to them) to live life now.

Both perspectives need to be honoured through compromise.