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By Laura Royer.

Money is the source of many conflicts among couples. In fact, there are several studies that report that most couples cite money as their top reason for arguing, with debt generally the most common culprit. Meanwhile, managing finances and successfully paying off debt together is proven to enhance stability and marital satisfaction.

So How Can Couples Improve Communication? 

As Personal Finance Managers (PFM) working with military couples, it’s important to help your clients understand that men and women view money differently, mostly because they process problems from different perspectives. Many times women do not rest until a problem is “resolved” whereas men may compartmentalize problems and deal with them in their logical order.

Most men are more likely to take risks which makes them less likely to save for emergencies. Men can place a value on money that equates earning with self-worth. Because of this, men can struggle with self-esteem when financial problems exist. Women, on the other hand, view money as security, so they may be more inclined to save money for the unexpected. When a woman’s financial security is tested, fear often becomes a driving force behind financial discussions.

Another issue that can cause financial disagreements between couples is that they have different financial goals and priorities. For example, she may want new cabinets in the kitchen, and he wants a new surround system for the TV. Priorities placed on the bills can be different, making it harder to agree on how money should be spent or even managed.

For more on how men and women manage finances differently, watch the recorded webinar Gender and Finances.

Creating Effective Communication

We know that communication is the foundation of every relationship and no exceptions are made with money. Most couples who are stressed about finances often fight rather than communicate. To help your clients remove money fights from their relationship, encourage them to talk about the finances, and identify the key issues causing the problem.

When talking to one another, advise speaking using “I” statements rather than “you” statements to keep defenses from rising. For example, “When there is no money being saved, I worry about an unexpected expense and not having money to pay for it.” Instead of, “When you don’t save money, you are putting us at risk for not being able to pay for an unexpected expense.” The way financial concerns are communicated will dictate the reaction and the end result of the communication.

Have Weekly Money Dates

A great way for couples to start the communication process is for them to “date” their money together. Just like every couple needs to spend time together, money requires time, too. The couple should designate the same day and time each week to have a money date. During this time, they will discuss their finances, pay bills, plan future expenses, and make financial decisions together.  It’s important for your client to not compromise on this time by letting other tasks distract them. The couple must commit to this weekly date so their relationship with money will improve.

During the money date, the couple should create a plan for how money should be spent monthly. Discuss the current month’s priorities that are unique to that month and identify ways where they can stretch dollars together or cut costs if needed.

Manage Money Together

It is common in relationships for one person to primarily handle the finances. This is partly the issue with money fights because one is doing all the work, while the other is unaware of what is causing the problem. During the money date, instruct the couple to talk with each other about any concerns and ideas they have for addressing the financial stress.

Each person will hopefully be willing to work together by making decisions about how money should be managed. To begin, have the couple list all of their financial expenses. Then, individually, the couple should rank each expense in order of priority, from most important to least important. When finished, have the couple compare their lists and discuss reasons why they placed the expenses in that particular order. The couple may have to compromise on ideas, but remind them that having a successful relationship and financial peace is their ultimate goal.

Utilize Individual Strengths.

For example, if one is better at dealing with bill collectors, then assign that role to them. While the other may be better at stretching dollars, so they should be in charge of shopping. When a couple utilizes each other’s strengths, they are working together as a team and both are a part of the solution.

Pay Each Other an Allowance 

The biggest cause of financial arguments usually happens when one person spends money on things that are not needed or can’t be afforded. As a couple, it’s important for each to have some individualism with money. A solution for this is to encourage the couple to give each other an allowance when creating the monthly budget.

With allowance money, the couple should agree that each person can do whatever they like with their money, no questions asked. For example, one uses the money for golf and eating out; the other uses it to get nails done and buy new shoes. This money should be used for personal expenses only, not items needed for the household. It also should be agreed that the rest of the income is committed to the household and cannot be dipped into personal expenses. This allows each person to have money for things that they personally want without dipping into the household funds that are allocated toward monthly bills.

Though managing money successfully as a couple can be a challenge, it is possible to help your clients get on the same page and see positive results. By following these recommendations, your clients can drastically improve their communication with one another and achieve success in managing them together.