Overcoming Money Conflict with your Partner


When both partners in a couple agree on a goal, focusing on the road to get there seems easy. Shared values make financial planning so much simpler.

But when you aren’t quite on the same page, it’s not an indictment or criticism of either partner. After all, you are each humans entitled to your own values and beliefs. But where money is concerned, conflict can get difficult, emotional and challenging to navigate.

Consider this money conversation.

“I want to make sure we leave our children the wealth we’ve created. Nothing is more important to me,” says Spouse 1.

“Well, I certainly want to leave our kids something, but not enough to spoil them. I would like to use the money we’ve saved to travel and enjoy life. After all, we’ve both worked so hard all these years,” Spouse 2 responds.

“I don’t care about travel! We don’t need anything. I just want a simple life with less stuff and to spend time with the children. That’s enjoyment enough for me,” Spouse 1 answers back quickly.

“You know, you’re being very definite and it doesn’t appear there’s room for discussion. I didn’t work so hard all these years to sit around and watch our grown children. They have lives that don’t revolve around us,” came an even sharper reply from Spouse 2.

You can see that this conversation could go on and on, with each partner digging in a little deeper. And it’s unlikely this conversation will lead to a resolution.

Instead, a way to resolve this kind of fundamental difference in mindset is to step back. Each partner must look backwards to how he/she individually grew up around money and how those experiences created and fostered their beliefs.

Spouse 1’s parents were immigrants who worked eighty-hour weeks to provide basic needs for survival. They died in their early 60’s when their grandchildren were still quite young. They never enjoyed a retirement and left what monies they’d saved to their two children.

Spouse 2 grew up in a family that, while not wealthy, was clearly upper middle class. The parents spent their extended retirement years traveling, enjoying their children and grandchildren and a mix of hobbies, volunteering, and cultural events.

It’s clear that each spouse’s family had a profound impact on their money mindset—their beliefs about money. Based on their experiences in their formative years, each spouse’s beliefs eventually became their “normal”. And now they clash.

Many couples face similar challenges as they navigate their financial lives. They make decisions because they feel comfortable and familiar, not because they are in their overall best interest.

If you and your other half find that you are disagreeing around money, you might work through the discussion together or with the help of your financial planner. But if it’s very contentious, it’s probably better that you work with a marriage counselor who is trained to deal with money issues, since your financial advisor is not a therapist.

Here are a few tips that will help you create positive conversations around money.

  1. Set a mutually convenient time when both of your energies are not drained.
  2. Find a private place where you won’t be distracted or interrupted.
  3. Agree on a topic and a time limit, since open-ended discussions can devolve quickly into frustration.
  4. Set ground rules: one speaks, one listens without interruption. Ask clarifying questions that are not judgmental. For example, instead of asking “Why did you …?” rephrase to “Can you tell me more about….?”
  5. Talk about your money histories and the lessons you learned. Shared stories help the other person understand your perspective.
  6. Look for areas where you can both agree.
  7. Decide when you need help.

Money is personal and talking about it can create highly emotional reactions.

But knowledge is power, so the more you know about yourself and your partner, the easier it can be to reach agreement on what means the most to you both.