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8 Ways to Stop Bickering About Money with Your Spouse

Finances are the top reason why couples argue. However, there are ways to maturely and fairly have "the money talk" without going to bed angry with your significant other. Read on to learn how you can stop an argument about money concerns—from overspending to never spending—before it escalates into a full-fledged fight.

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Acknowledge your partner’s financial strengths

If one of you is a saver and one of you is a spender, lean on your partner’s financial strengths when making any large purchase together, such as a car or a house, advises Real Simple. For example, let’s say a couple wants to buy a new car; the saver wants a used mid-sized car and the spender is interested in a brand-new sports car. Find a compromise that works for both of you. The saver may point out that the family don’t need a small, shiny new sports car with all the “bells and whistles” that jacks up its price; while the spender lobbies that a used car may have some technical issues over time, along with wear and tear, that may require expensive repair fees in the long run. Bottom line: Before making any major purchase as a couple, come to an agreement about the maximum amount of money you’re willing to spend; and outline your individual needs and expectations before coming to a final decision as a united team. Here are 9 ways to really listen to someone when they speak.

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Explore your spouse’s financial motivations

Ask your partner why exactly he is anxious to spend or save money. He may have a very specific reason why he is feeling a certain way about finances that doesn’t directly have to do with you. Perhaps an ex stole money from his bank account; or he grew up poor and that constant fear of poverty still haunts them. Talk about what early memories may be driving your behavior—even if that means drudging up your past—and really listen to what your partner says in return. Brad Klontz, a psychologist and certified financial planner, coached a couple who realized that talking about their stories helped them shift from anger and blame to compassion. “If you realize that your spouse grew up in poverty and as a result of that they have this intense fear around not having enough money, all of a sudden their cheapness takes on an entirely new light,” Klontz told The Wall Street Journal.

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Compromise on how much to support your adult child

Some couples may argue about their children and financial support. You may think your wife gives your son too much money; she is happy to help your child out, no questions asked. Minnesota-based therapist Susan Zimmerman, recently quoted in The Wall Street Journal, says it’s important for the parent providing the support to understand why she is doing it. “[It] may be driven by a sense of discomfort from the fact that the parent doesn’t like the child being mad at the them.” Here’s one simple strategy to avoid fighting about kids and money, suggests Zimmerman: Each spouse writes down the amount they think is acceptable to give their child. When they reveal what they’ve written, Zimmerman asks: “Where do you think that number came from?” Often, the answer is related to a childhood memory, but it can also be an estimate of how much the spouse can spare every month. There is no wrong answer, she says, and every answer will help the spouses start to understand each other better.

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Be realistic about your partner’s salary

According to Real Simple, the partner who makes more money, should, and can, realistically spend more money on household expenses. A good rule of thumb is to divvy up the monthly expenses based on the percentage of income each spouse contributes to the household. For example, if your yearly salary is $50,000 and your partner’s is $25,000, you can contribute twice what your spouse does to household expenses. It’s OK to keep your bank account separates, but discuss who will pay for what every month; for example, the spouse who earns more money may cover utilities and car insurance, while the spouse who brings home less money may cover the cellphone bills and drugstore items, etc. It’s never a fun convo, but every month, talk about who is paying for what, so each person knows how to budget accordingly for the following month.

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Have your separate values then “meet in the middle”

We all have issues we are extremely passionate about. When it comes to spouses; if you’re both very stubborn about a situation and have very different opinions; a compromise must be made, especially if children are involved. Real Simple uses a child’s education as an example. Let’s say you really want your child to attend the local public school; it’s where her friends go, it’s local, and it’s tuition-free. You went to public school, you argue, and received a great education and made lifelong friends. However, your spouse argues the elite private school an hour away is a better option for your child. What to do? Of course, consult with your child first and explore all the pros and cons. Perhaps you can send your child to public school and save money to eventually send them off to college debt-free. Or enroll your child in the private school but have them use their allowance to pay for their accessories, gadgets, and guilty pleasures such as smoothies and beauty products.

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Don’t mock your spouse

Just because you don’t agree with the luxury items your spouse enjoys, doesn’t mean you should belittle them. Material goods that makes you happy may not exactly make them happy; so how would you feel if they mocked you about you spending choices? For instance, if your hubby comes home with a vintage guitar and is super-psyched about it, hesitate before cringing or stating their luxury item is stupid or worthless. Deep down, you’re probably well aware it wasn’t really that expensive; it’s just not something you personally wouldn’t buy. “You can’t change a personal preference,” couples mediator Laurie Puhn told US News & World Report. “And if every time your partner brings up a personal preference and you try to beat it out of them, it’s you who lacks the communication skills.” Accept your partner’s difference in spending habits, drop the defensive atttiude, and you’ll eventually be in a better place to financially collaborate and problem solve as a united duo.

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Be mature about your spending

“One mistake couples make is going tit-for-tat with each other, such as saying, ‘You can’t buy those golf clubs if I can’t have new shoes’,” says Jenn Mann, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist. “Once a week arrange a 20-minute ‘business meeting’ together, and go over your finances.” Mann finds that oftentimes one person is handling the banking and their partner is putting their head in the sand. Weekly check-ins force you both to face reality and not argue about finances in the heat of the moment, such as in a store in front of fellow shoppers. Mann advises couples to set a designated amount of spending money they each get per week. Then, it’s up to each partner to decide how they spend that money. “Having the same amount of ‘play’ money to spend per week gives you a little autonomy and balances the field,” says Mann.

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Seek professional help

Fighting non-stop about money? When things get really heated, seek help from a marriage counselor and/or therapist. An outside perspective can really help and a therapist can help you explore each other’s points-of-view without being biased. “A shift in perspective will help immensely. Remember, you’re both in this together and are working toward building financial security with each other; not attacking each other’s spending habits,” says Aida Vazin, a Newport Beach, California-based marriage and family therapist. Chances are you both want the same beautiful things in life and share similar values, after all, that’s why you were attracted to each other in the first place.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Rachel Sokol
Rachel Sokol is a longtime contributor to Reader's Digest, tackling mostly cleaning and health round-ups. A journalism graduate of Emerson College, she's a former education writer, beauty editor, and entertainment columnist.