My Marriage Is On The Rocks; We’re Always Fighting About Money. Help!

Fights about money predict divorce better than any other measure, according to one study ( The first place to start in your marriage is with an agreement that your marriage and your relationship are more important than money. Now, let’s talk about some ways that couples can work on finding agreement about money in their marriage: Start with a broad vision. Seek to find common ground for a shared financial vision of the future. Don’t worry about today at all in this conversation.

You are seeking to find shared values about the future you’ll build together. Big questions like whether or not you’d like to own a home, what retirement might be like, and whether you’ll both work or whether one will be a breadwinner and the other a homemaker. It is important for you both to be honest with each other. While it might have been nice to have this conversation before you were married, have it now before things get worse.

Write down your shared vision. You’ll be surprised at how hard it is to write down a description of your shared vision. As you talk, you’ll often fall into the trap of hearing what you want to hear. The act of writing it down and getting agreement that what is written represents a shared vision will be critical to moving forward together. Take a break. If creating a shared vision of the future was stressful and painful, take a break for a day or a week or even a month. Remember the primary goal is to build a happy family not a fortune.

Set goals. Once you have a shared vision and you’re ready to tackle more financial conversation, try to set some specific long term goals. If your shared vision included paying for the children to go to college, set a specific goal for saving for their college. Set savings goals for retirement, for a home purchase, for your careers as you envision them. Be specific but focus on the long term and not today. Do not fight over who spent more for lunch today! Take a break. If you have written down some specific long term goals, you’re doing great.

That is huge progress. You now have a shared vision and specific goals. If you’re having fun now, keep working, but if this is hard work and stressful, take a break for a few days or even a few weeks and come back to this when you’re ready. Review. Now that you’ve had a chance to create a shared vision and specific long-term goals, review these together. Make sure that you are still on the same page. If doubts and concerns have arisen, deal with them. Remember that you value your marriage more than money.

Create an action plan. This is where the rubber meets the road. It is time to start talking about how you spend money today in order to accomplish the goals and bring about the shared vision. It is reasonable to say that we’ll take six months or a year to live out a dream—backpacking around Europe together, living in Colorado skiing in winter and hiking in summer, living in Mexico near the beach creating memories that you will cherish together forever. That said, it wouldn’t be wise to borrow the money to live for a year.

 If you’ve got it, spend it in a way that will bring you together. Then develop an action plan for accomplishing your goals and realizing your shared vision of the future.  Build a budget. A workable action plan likely includes something that looks an awful lot like a budget. If one of you objects to the term, call it something else. Spending guidelines, savings targets, discretionary spending limits all accomplish the same thing. Find language you can agree upon and then begin living by your budget, to realize your shared vision. 

Remember, your marriage can still work even if you can’t make a budget work. Focus on your goals. Nothing is more important to the happiness of a family than the happiness of the marriage. Find your shared vision for the future and work together to bring it about. Once you’re fighting for the same thing you’ll stop fighting over the same old thing.