North Shore therapist Pam Meyerson works with dozens of couples every week, and she says money frequently comes up in sessions.
She says our feelings and attitudes about money often relate to our childhoods. Maybe your parents struggled, so you’re a saver. Or perhaps your family expressed love with presents, so you overspend. Meyerson says being aware of your spouse’s—and your own—emotional issues about money can decrease friction.
“I try to get people to understand why money plays the role it does in their lives,” Meyerson says. “Everybody has money anxiety, but different purchases trigger it for different people.”
You may be familiar with this dynamic: You want to take the kids to Disney World and your spouse wants to sock away money in their college funds. When you clash, your instinct may be to criticize, but if you understand your spouse’s values about money, you may be able to hold your tongue—and avoid an argument.
“Instead of trying to control the other person, try to understand them,” Meyerson says. “There has to be some middle ground.”
If your budget is tight, Meyerson suggests using cash or prepaid debit cards to control spending. If neither spouse can blow the budget, you’ll prevent fights. Interestingly, Meyerson says a little avoidance may also be helpful in stopping spats. If your budget comfortably includes dinners at nice restaurants, but you still get anxious when the check comes, just let your spouse pay the bill.
Tina B. Tessina, a California psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, advises couples to treat finances like a business. That means clearly defining your responsibilities and agreeing on a plan to meet financial goals. As you would with an important work project, schedule regular meetings to monitor progress and update each other.
“Don’t expect to be able to discuss finances successfully while you’re on the run, when it’s late at night or while watching TV,” Tessina says. “Instead, make a date for discussing finances, and take the time to sit down together with all the proper information, and discuss your needs, wants and means.”
That said, Tessina says each spouse should have a little “mad money.” “The bulk of the money should go into a joint account to cover mortgage, groceries, kids’ clothes, etc.,” Tessina says. “But you should each have a little stash you can spend without checking with your partner.”
For complex matters like retirement planning or purchasing a vacation home, couples can benefit from professional guidance. Highland Park financial planner David Engle says a trusted advisor can run the numbers so you can evaluate options. Plus, a professional lends an objective perspective, which can help spouses avoid disagreements over major expenditures.