Money Fight: learning how to talk about money

Couples often find themselves engaged in a money fight. To this end, fighting about money comes up in two recent surveys:

  1. Yahoo! Finance Financially Fit Survey from Yahoo! and Fitness Magazine (November 2011)
  2. YourTango.com Survey

Couples money fightBoth reassert what we already know: often couples fight about money. Further, it’s difficult for couples to talk about money. Granted, the two surveys arrive at slightly different conclusions about why couples fight and the role money plays in those fights.

Survey results: why couples fight

The Yahoo! survey reinforces the traditional ranking of money as the biggest cause of couples’ arguments:

  1. Men and women agree: money is the number-1  issue couples fight about (26 percent). Other causes of couples’ fights include:
  2. chores (13%)
  3. kids (8%)
  4. sex (8%)
  5. in-laws (8%)

On the other hand, the financial habits and attitudes survey from YourTango.com finds what it calls a surprising result: money fights were not at the top of the list of what couples argue about. It finds that couples “fight, split and seek counseling” because of:

  1. Communication problems. (“72% of therapists listed ‘communication problems’ as the #1 reason couples seek therapy.”)
  2. Lack of emotional intimacy.
  3. Fighting about money.
  4. Sex.

The survey found that, once in therapy for such marriage arguments, the top cause for failure is a lack of effort.

Much of the discrepancy between the “money fight” surveys may result from who was surveyed:

  • The Yahoo! survey polled 2,000 Americans. They were ages 18 to 64. They were representative of the U.S. online population. It was an online quantitative survey.
  • The other survey was pulled form YourTango Experts. Although the actual sample size is not given, the press release notes that the entire expert population is 1100. This includes psychotherapists, counselors, coaches and other helping professionals.

In one case, it’s a question of what couples think their issues are. In the other, it shows what therapists and counselors think their clients’ issues are. Fighting about money is a clearer cause for clients but seen differently by professionals.

Interestingly, the Yahoo! Survey also notes a significant difference in who controls family finances:

  • 49% of adults say they share control of finances with their significant others.
  • 41% claim they have sole control.

A money fight necessitates talking about money

However, both surveys show that couples still fight about money – and do so a lot. And both still point to the value of having a tool to help couples talk about money. Without addressing money fights (or these other top issues), a couple may be in for a rocky road, perhaps leading to divorce. Both explain why Money Habitudes cards are used as a financial conversation starter by couples on their own as well as by professionals (couples counselors, marriage therapists, financial planners, etc.).

Even if money is only the fourth-most-important reason why couples fight (while it is habitually first in other polls), it is still a crucial issue for couples. Also, although Money Habitudes focuses on financial habits and attitudes, it is very much a tool to help couples communicate. Ask anyone who’s had couples make a budget and you’ll hear that money fights aren’t so much about the actual dollars and cents. Instead, couples fight about money because of:

  • differing beliefs, values, habits, attitudes, behaviors.
  • a lack of understanding and communication about these issues.

For this reason, Money Habitudes cards are:

  • Used in financial education, financial literacy and financial capability programs on one hand.
  • Also used in marriage and relationship classes and counseling.
  • One of the few tools that crosses the gap between financial skills and couples communication skills.

Communicating about money and avoiding money fights

Indeed, what the YourTango survey may reveal is what we hear all the time from marriage therapists: when couples fight about money, they’re not really fighting about money. A money fight is typically is a proxy for other issues such as:

  • Love
  • Generosity
  • Freedom
  • Respect
  • Acceptance
  • Responsibility
  • Status
  • Independence
  • Security
  • Contentment
  • Self-worth

It’s no surprise that money fights are really about other issues. And, of course, when couples can’t communicate about money – or those other, bigger, scarier topics – it’s bound to lead to difficulty or even divorce.

To this end, Money Habitudes, helps couples communicate about money. (That’s true for couples that are dating, engaged or newlywed, as well as those married a long time.) It helps them better understand and respect each other. It helps them see the other’s perspective. It helps couples avoid fighting about money. And much of what couples learn about themselves is applicable to other parts of their relationship.

Starting a conversation with the hands-on card game format makes the discussion fun and engaging. Couples often end up laughing and smiling about their differences rather than fighting about them – which is why therapists like using Money Habitudes as a conversation starter in counseling sessions.