When parents fight over money

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Address the money issues instead of burying them


Long-term romantic relationships are complex, and fighting is inevitable. However, some arguments are more sensitive than others. Studies have found that fights revolving around money decreased relationship satisfaction and is a predictor of divorce no matter how much couples make. One third of people who argue with their partner about money admitted to hiding purchases from their significant other. Moreover, two thirds of marriages start off in debt. An increased amount of debt puts money as the number one issue couples fight about. In contrast, getting rid of debt will improve a marriage.

Usually, fights arise when two people have different spending styles. The first thing is to understand the role of the spender and the saver. The saver tends to have a broader picture of life. S/he won’t spend to get a treat today because later in life, an emergency might arise that requires this money. On the other hand, the spender is detail-oriented and enjoys the present moment. S/he will spend without consideration of future needs. Despite earning a large income, detail-oriented thinkers may end up in large debt and low savings.

Being financial stressed out may affect the kids at home. Depending on their age, they may not be aware of what is going on at home. They don’t fully understand the psychological impact of being laid off or being at risk of losing a home. However, they’re good “feelers.” Children generally sense a stressful environment where parents fight and struggle. Kids may display certain symptoms such as anxious or violent behavior, doing less well in school or getting a physical sickness. As a consequence, they may develop certain fears while growing up that have lasting effects on their adulthood. For example, kids might become fearful of being homeless one day and begin to hoard.

First, don’t panic!

Fighting about money is common amongst couples. Do not make money an enemy because of the lack of or its poor management. Running out of money can be difficult but not insurmountable. What kids hear is extremely important. Kids pick up on what they are faced with, so you’d rather teach them that every problem has a solution rather than freaking out. While going through a crisis, it is important to remain calm and not display impulsive behaviors. Stir away from shaming or guilting your partner because it sends the wrong message to the kids that money can bring humiliation. Kids may grow up thinking that money is the root of his or her parents’ divorce and avoid it later in life.

The best way to teach kids about good money management is to show them how to cope with situations, not telling. Show them that the solution can be broken down into feasible and reachable goals. For example, if you’re reimbursing on a loan, bring them to the bank to make that payment so the kids can witness the transaction. Namely, show them the past-due credit card bill and how being late increased the sum owned to the credit card company. Having a healthy attitude towards money and showing them solutions to financial issues will help them cope with them on their own later in life.

Involve the kids to build a team

Parents might want to use this opportunity to explain to their kids how to cope with the financial distress. Having an open conversation will reassure them. Explaining the situation to a kid might readjust his or her level of anxiety and get rid of exaggerations about reality. Emphasize that the family is a loving unit that can overcome obstacles with small changes. Teach your kid about frugality and to take good care of his or her current belongings to make them last longer. Focus on gratitude for the simple things around you and for the people being in your life. Help from other sources (from another family members, unemployment money, etc) need to be honored and not taken for granted.

An effective strategy to address the financial burdens is to have regular “money dates” in order to keep matters on track. Depending on the age, you may consider including your children in those dates. Talking honestly about spending habits, future goals and personal fears is the first step to build a comprehensive family. If the kids are too young for money talk, don’t keep them in the dark as it will give them a false sense of reality. Also, do not keep overspending to keep up with the appearance that things are fine. Use your judgment to explain the situation while reassuring them and providing them with a sense of security.

Breaking gender roles

Sometimes, parents may fight about money because of perceived stereotypes. Some women expect their husband or male significant other to pay for restaurant meals, vacations, household bills, daily expenses etc. The issue with this habit is that it teaches daughters to not pay for things and later, they expect to be taken care of. Fights may arise due to these expectations if both parties are not on the same page about these traditional roles.

A potential solution is to break the gender roles. Parents need to show that both parties are willing to participate to the family’s expenses. Have an agreement on who pays what. Decide whether each person contributes based on a percentage of their salary or split in half. This way, fights will decrease as an agreement is in place. Moreover, show your kids that expenses are a team’s efforts, not just daddy’s work.

Add celebratory marks

Money does not only bring material rewards, but good money management also brings milestones to build wealth. Parents that seek solutions to their money issues may use the help of a financial advisor who can plan a long-term solution to their problems. A financial advisor may have a positive effect on bringing hope and bridging the gap between partners. Sometimes, having a third neutral party can help put the personal troubles aside because talking about money can be emotional.

Celebrate your money management decisions by getting a small reward for the family. For example, if you are finished with a car loan, treat your family to a nice meal. If you have reached saving enough for a project, take a break and go to the movies. Wealth building is not all about sacrifice. Once the goal is reached, allow yourself and your kids to see the rewards for this positive financial behavior. This will teach kids the balance between saving money and reward one’s self in spending it.

In conclusion, money management style differs from person to person and can be the source of arguments that hurts a couple. We are all humans, we try to do better but when financial issues occur, the best solution is to be a good role model. Children may pick up on their parents’ anxiety and develop other health issues themselves. It is thus crucial to explain to them how to deal with the situation and show them how to get to solutions. This is an opportunity for them to learn about the benefits of frugality and gratitude. In case of a job loss from one or both partners, money may come from different sources, show that gratitude is essential in this case. Emphasize the team’s effort in dealing with a financial situation, and break gender roles about men paying for everything. Agree with your partner on you’re a spending budget, whether it is a percentage of both incomes or set amount. A financial advisor can work as a third neutral party to arrange for the couple’s budget plan, regain control of money management and build wealth. As couples get out of difficult financial situations, it is important to show kids some celebratory marks to encourage them to continue positive financial behaviors.

Photo credits: Thierry Raimbault

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