14 Rules For Money Fights With Your Spouse

I wish we could call it a discussion about money.  The fact is that many couples don’t have discussions about money – it’s an all out fight.  Money topics are often so sensitive and so tender that it is hard for couples to effectively deal with money disagreements.  There are so many good marriage tips, but few that deal specifically with money disagreements.

While there are ways to help you improve your money relationship in marriage, this post will focus on money-fights and how to know when/if you need marriage counseling to help resolve the issues.

One of the best things you can do for your marriage is to agree that you are going to “fight fair” by following some ground rules…

Ground Rules For An Effective Money Fight

1. Find an appropriate setting.

When you are going to have a serious discussion about money, it is advisable to have that discussion in a public location like a restaurant (unless you’re trying to convince your spouse that they spend too much money eating out).  You each will feel the social pressure to be civil and thus, you will not be tempted to act as inappropriately as you might if you were in the privacy of your own home.

2. Be complimentary and honest.

While your spouse might possess certain financial weaknesses they may also have strengths.  Start by honestly complimenting them for their strengths.  After this they might be more ready to hear a few concerns about your financial situation.

3. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.

When you were three years old the goal of fighting was to win. With marriage, if winning is your goal you will always lose.  The goal of a marriage is unity and you only win when your marriage is unified.  Make it your goal instead to understand.  Ask yourself, why would my spouse feel that way?  Is there something deeper going on?

4. Be clear about the argument topic.

Our actions usually reveal cloaked feelings.  The action might represent a feeling, and that feeling represents something we need.  The need reveals something we value. If you value security you might need financial stability.  This is why you feel angry when your husband comes home with another new car.  Thus, the new car argument has nothing to do with the car, but is instead about your need for security.  You see the benefits of a fully funded emergency fund because you value security.

Try to get to the heart of your emotions.  Why do certain actions bother you so much?

5. Talk when you are ready, not when you are angry.

If your wife came home and told you she spent another $500 on the credit card and you are already upside down in debt you might need a cooling off period before you have a discussion about spending habits.  If you are not ready to talk say, “I can’t talk about it now, but I will talk about it in 20 minutes.”  Always try and give a time frame for when you will readdress the issue.

6. Don’t make jokes about the other person.

You might be able to crack up Bill Cosby, but part of comedic genius is timing.  Let me tell you, this is not the time for the funny man routine.  Humor when people are upset is often misinterpreted.

7. Avoid “you” statements – use “I think” or “I feel”.

Try not to include any past or future predictions like you never or you’ll always … Want to light up a room?  Just say you always. Part of our survival instinct is that when you push me (emotionally, not physically, I hope) I’ll push you.  When you say “you always” I automatically become defensive and start acting defensively.  Using the words “I feel’” keeps the topic in a more neutral place.

8. Don’t exaggerate.

“I’ll never be able to learn this concept”.  See what I did there.  I overemphasized a point by exaggeration.  Here are some classic bad examples:  “You’ll never be able to make a decent income.”

9. Don’t use the silent treatment – speak openly.

The silent treatment can be a deadly weapon.  Unfortunately, it is also completely unhelpful. If you need to withdraw from a conversation, then set your time to return.  As a couple, you deserve the opportunity to both talk through the issues.  With that said, if you feel more comfortable writing down your frustrations you should feel welcome to do so.

10.0 Agree not to make threats.

“If you do that again I’ll divorce you”.  These types of statements are not constructive and often times are taken as a challenge.  Remove the “D” word from your marriage vocabulary.

11. Keep arguments private and don’t embarrass your spouse.

12. Repeat back what the other person is saying.

This one sounds a little silly.  It is unnatural, but highly effective. Use a phrase like, “So I hear you saying …”  Don’t assume you know exactly what your spouse means.  Give the phrase back to your spouse and see if they think that summarizes what they said.

13. Look for win–win solutions.

In marriage if you win and your spouse loses then ultimately you both lose.  The only way to have a victory in marriage is for both of you to share the winning experience.

14. Honor your spouse with every word and action.

Make a firm commitment that you will treat your spouse honorably, even in the midst of strong disagreements.

When it it time for marriage counseling?

  1. When you find yourselves in an argument cycle – it is always the same topic with the same unresolved conclusion.
  2. When issues are intensifying.  If the emotional intensity is increasing each time you talk about an issue, this means there really has not been any solutions and you could use a counselor’s perspective.
  3. When a wife thinks it’s time.  Look, I’m not trying to be sexist, but I believe women have a greater sense when something is amiss.  If she says it’s time – it is time.
  4. When you start finding more satisfaction away from your spouse than with your spouse.  If you are avoiding going home, you need to address the marriage immediately before it spirals out of control.

Photo by liveandrock.

What other tips do you have for helping with money fights?

  1. Robd

    Good tips…I enjoyed the article.

  2. Evan

    That appropriate setting is HUGE. I (get really upset) when the wife tries to discuss money in front of others (doesn’t even have to be a fight).

  3. bondChristian

    Yes, the first one threw me as well. I would have expected it to work better in private. I can see where you’re coming from though… and something I’ll have to remember.

    Also, #12 is dead on. It can seem so useless, but every time I’ve done it, I’ve realized how disjointed I am. In any argument, it’s easy to end up talking past each other.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  4. Kick debt off

    @Marchal Jones Jr
    Well said.. we should constantly work to create an enviroment where we can talk about ‘our stuff’ without letting the whole village know!

  5. Joe

    Great list of ideas, but I am still chewing on the first one. It seems that if things are so volatile as to require a public setting, then real communication would be stifled. Put another way, if the couple could follow the remaining guidelines, they wouldn’t “need” this social setting in order to be civil.

  6. Kiesha @ Highly Favored

    Thank you for this insightful set of ground rules. #5 and #9 are my favorite – especially important because it allow communication to actually happen as opposed to just talking at each other.
    I appreciate your honestly about a woman’s intuition about when things are amiss – it’s truly admiral – I don’t think you’re being sexist, but really it doesn’t matter which partner picks up on the problem first as long as somebody recognizes it and does something.

  7. Craig Ford

    Perhaps a couple who usually has private discussions should try it in public and see which works best for them.
    Thanks for the comment. I agree that it doesn’t matter who picks up the problem first. However, in experience working with couples 99% of the time the woman knows there is a serious problem long before the man even knows there is a problem.
    I appreciate your thoughts on the public setting. I included that on the list because it has been proven time and time again (in many disciplines) that people act differently in public than they do in private. Without exception people are more likely to act better in public. I figure if a couple is having money fights they need to do everything possible to get to the heart of the issue. I having the discussion in public give them a little advantage then I’d say go for it.
    But, I see your point, if a couple ‘needs’ the social setting they are in serious trouble.

  8. lily

    this has been the best advise I’ve received this year. thank you.

  9. Renee

    I appreciate your advice on this one and am truly going to take each point into consideration. I am an avid follower of your blog and look forward to each new post; I love that you believe God is truly important in all you do.

    This is my issue and was hoping you might be able to help me understand my partners point of view. We have “fights” over money all the time. I am the one that is responsible for paying all the bills and making sure things like appointments for the kids, renewal for insurance, premiums and everything else that is part of daily life is taken care of. He does help and contributes to housework, shuffling kids to and from school and taking care of the pets. He also contributes by giving me his paycheck every week. His idea of helping with the finances is that, he gives me the money. He has no idea where we are financially and has no desire to get involved at all.

    This situation causes me to resent him and feel bitter and lonely when it’s time to pay bills or work on our budget. We just had our second child eight months ago and unfortunately the delivery didn’t go as planned so medical bills have piled up. He was also laid off over a year ago and although he’s had work here and there it hasn’t been consistent. He feels I’m nagging him about not having enough money. We are living ok, tighter than before, but were living. The issue I have is not about the money but about the fact that he doesn’t get involved financially.

    Am I overreacting to this situation or should I just let it go and continue to be the one to worry about our financial situation.