This may come as a shock. In my 30 years of working with couples and their finances, I have witnessed quite a few arguments about money. Shock number two – in my 28 years of being married, I have won very few arguments about money (this article was edited by my wife).
First, I would like to point out that arguments in a relationship are not in and of themselves a sign of trouble. In fact, healthy arguments are part of the best marriages. So, what does a healthy argument look like? It is where differences of opinion or even disagreements surrounding deeply held beliefs are met with respect and care. Each person can express why their position is important to them and trust that while their spouse may not agree, they will listen and try to understand the other’s position and why it matters to them. Even these “healthy arguments” may not get solved immediately, but they do no harm to the overall relationship.
While sometimes single event arguments can sting and cause friction, what I want to focus on here is a high-risk and potentially damaging type of argument – the recurring argument.
Often the recurring argument can have several toxic elements that could deeply hurt the relationship. Do your best to avoid these:
- Open frustration – Since the argument recurs, we can get angry that we are “being forced” back into this place of confrontation.
- Contempt – If we don’t agree with or respect our spouse’s position on the issue, we can find ourselves showing contempt for their thoughts or beliefs.
- Escalations – If we find ourselves in the same bad place over and over, we may react by pushing harder, speaking louder, and at times belittling our spouse.
- Learned Scripts – If we have had the same argument for years, we notice that we can instantly enter a volatile argument at the place we left it last time or repeat the argument verbatim each time.
- Silence and Avoidance – While avoiding the argument may make sense, it also can develop feelings that your spouse can’t be trusted with your ideas or beliefs. This can lead to bad places.
One thing I feel confident about: Recurring arguments around financial issues are usually not really about the money. They also aren’t things that would get resolved if you just had more money.
It takes work to change. It takes work to do things differently than you currently do them. But it is also hard work to stay in a place of conflict and frustration.
If you want to make progress, you are both going to need to be curious. Find time and space to figure out why your spouse feels the way they do, where those feelings developed, and what the issues surrounding the argument might be.
Winning the argument doesn’t mean getting your way. It means investing in communication that draws you closer and helps you better understand your spouse and yourself. It means coming to solutions that put your shared Values First.