The Real Reason You Fight About Money

couple fighting with boxing glovesTensions often run high when couples talk about money. How many times has a simple conversation with your spouse about what bills are due or “what’s this receipt for?” turned into a brawl? If you’re like most, the answer is: ALL THE TIME!

So what’s at the root of all this fighting?

I think the natural response is that it’s the AMOUNT of money. Couples often say something along the lines of “If we only made more money, we would never ever fight about it!” But that’s dead wrong. Sure, a raise could make it less painful to make student loan payments or hefty credit card bills, but more money doesn’t necessarily make it easier for spouses to talk about money. In fact, more money can sometimes create more arguments.

There is something deeper at work. From my experience with financial coaching, I’ve seen that the key difference in couples who fight less about money is that they are unified in their finances. And this isn’t even about whether to have a joint checking account or splitting the bills down the middle or any of that. While clear money management strategies are great and necessary, there are more foundational aspects for couples when sharing the household expenses – and they demand even more focus.

Read: 4 Ways Couples Handle Money

If you can nail down these 3 principles in your household, you’ll probably fight less about money and dramatically improve how you manage your personal finances.

1. Keep it simple.

Everyone has a different threshold for what simple looks like. Some couples focus on keeping things equal in the house rather than keeping finances simple. While equality certainly doesn’t sound complicated, it can creates a lot of headaches.  The point is to figure out what simple means to you. You’ll stick to good plan together if you keep it simple. Complexity increases the chances for conflict, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

2. Keep communication constant and frequent.

The worst possible thing you can do is to never talk about money. A financial approach filled with assumptions, unknowns, and secrets will lead to trouble. Practically, this could lead to overdrawn accounts but the larger issue is that little communication can put a wedge between spouses, which leads to fighting.

Even if you have a situation where one person regularly logs into the bank account and moves money around, the other spouse has to be in the loop. You don’t have to be neurotic about this and text them when you buy a pack of gum, but find the level of communication that works for you. For a lot of couples, that point is when each spouse feels some ownership in money management. Others just want a weekly or monthly summary, but it’s best to start with a lot of communication and pare back until you find that comfort zone.

3. Plan shared financial goals.

Similar to the benefits of communication, you will be far more unified in how you manage the money if you have shared financial goals. It takes two to make those happen. He shouldn’t be spending the emergency fund on video games and she shouldn’t spend the down payment on the house on Starbucks. Have a conversation about short-term and long-term financial goals and share in the excitement of reaching them. Just think back to the last time you reached a financial goal such as paying off a loan or credit card after being in debt for years. Reaching those sorts of goals together brings couples even closer together since it takes true teamwork and shared sacrifice.

No matter what your income level or budget, the above three tips can help you. As with most financial matters, change can be uncomfortable. There may be some tense moments as you begin communicating more about money, making long-term plans and shifting responsibilities, but I’ve seen many couples earn something more valuable than money after following the above three suggestions: peace.