Avoid Money Fights in Troubled Times 5 recession-proof ways to keep your marriage thriving during difficult financial times. BY JONATHAN ROBINSON
Don't let money issues ruin your marriage. Take ownership and follow these simple steps.
Everyone knows the economy is acting like an out-of-control roller coaster. Yet, what goes unreported in the news is the fact that a troubled economy often leads to a troubled marriage. After all, money issues are cited as the most common reason couples argue. You and your spouse can easily work through money issues in a way that leads to more love and trust by taking the following five steps.
1. See It As It Is: Nothing good ever comes out of the tendency to deny or distract ourselves from unpleasant facts. To prevent your marriage going the way of our economy, I suggest you take a good look at what's going on between you and your partner in regards to money. Are either of you hiding purchases, debt or other secrets from each other? If you answered "yes," you're not alone. Most couples find talking about money to be unpleasant and difficult—so they just avoid it until it boils over into a nasty argument. Yet, if done right, talking about money can bring a couple closer together. I suggest partners broach the subject by saying something like this: "Honey, I'd like to talk to you about some money issues. In the past, I've avoided talking about such things, but that just leaves us with unresolved tensions. Instead, I'd like for us to take a clear look at where we are financially, and discuss how we might get to where we want to be."
2. Avoid Blaming Your Partner: Besides denial and distraction, when times are tough, the first thing we look for is someone to blame. Conveniently, your spouse just spent $45 taking a friend out to lunch, so they make a good target. The problem is that blame never works. Let’s say you tell your spouse all the ways they are irresponsible with money. Can you imagine your husband or wife replying, "Gee, everything you said about me is true. Thank you for showing me the errors of my ways." I can’t imagine such a reply either. Even if you’re right, blaming your spouse is simply adding fuel to the fire.
Since blame never works, your only workable option is to take responsibility for any money issues that come up. Although your mate surely played a part in any financial worries you have, it always takes two to tango. Did she spend too much or did he make too little? See my point? By revealing the precise way you contributed to the issue at hand, it will help your partner to do likewise. I suggest asking yourself the question, "How might I have contributed to our current financial worries?" Then tell your spouse your answer(s). You’ll be amazed at how such vulnerability helps to trigger the same in your partner, as well as lay the groundwork for future problem solving.
3. Understand Your Partner: Unfortunately, couples often try to fix a situation before they truly understand how their spouse sees the problem. The first step in problem solving is to try to understand your partner’s point of view—even if you strongly disagree with it. To do this, I suggest you use something I call the "Acknowledgement Formula." Here’s the method:
When your wife, for example, expresses her concerns, upsets, or what’s wrong with you, simply say, "It sounds like" (then briefly paraphrase what she said to you in a sentence or two). Then follow up with, "That must feel" (take a guess as to what she’s feeling about the issue at hand).
Let me illustrate with a more concrete example. If your spouse complains, "I can’t believe you spent $45 on lunch. What were you thinking? You say we don’t have enough money and then you blow $45 on such an indulgence."
What would your reply be? If you use the Acknowledgment Formula, you could say, "It sounds like you feel I’m hypocritical to spend money on something you feel was not important. That must feel very aggravating." For better or worse, solving problems with your partner is almost impossible unless he or she feels you understand their perspective and feelings. The Acknowledgment Formula helps you to do that in a quick and easy manner.
4. Make Agreements: Instead of trying to decide who is the real guilty party when it comes to money problems, I suggest you ask a question that will help you to negotiate solutions to the issues you have. The question I suggest is, "What are a couple of ideas you have that might work out as a useful compromise for both of us?" If what you come up with doesn’t work after a week or two, you can always negotiate a new solution.
My wife used to get upset at me when I’d purchase something that she thought we didn’t need. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to consult with her over every purchase I made. I asked her the previous question and we eventually agreed that we both could spend up to $200 without needing to get the other’s approval. By making this agreement as to how to handle spending issues, we have been able to avoid all arguments over making purchases. I suggest you try to iron out similar agreements with your husband or wife.
5. Plan for Fun: Lastly, create a low cost way to have fun together. In my therapy practice, I ask each partner to list 10 things they can enjoy doing with their spouse that does not cost a lot of money. Just making such a list can give couples hope that they can make it through tough times without their relationship melting down. Many married couples find that exploring simple (and low cost) pleasures with their partner actually helps to deepen their relationship.
Times are tough enough without the added stress of a tense marriage. By using the five suggestions outlined here, you and your partner will keep your love alive—no matter what happens in the economy.
Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist and the bestselling author of "Communication Miracle for Couples," as well as other books. He is a frequent guest on Oprah, CNN and other shows. For more information on marriage tips and to learn about his books, or to e-mail Mr. Robinson, you can go to his web site: www.howtotools.com.