Married 38 years, Ron and Carol Beck are the picture of financial compatibility: They split the money chores (he pays the bills, she invests), decide together on big purchases (like their new Corvette), and align their savings goals (retirement has long been No. 1). But the San Jose couple haven’t always been so fiscally united.
Unlike many young couples today, they didn’t discuss money before marrying. So just months after taking their vows, they took their lumps. One day Ron came home with papers for Carol to sign. It was the first she’d heard of the $35,000 rental property he planned to buy. “We had a huge argument,” recalls Carol, 65, a community college counselor. What upset her most was not that their mortgage payments would go up 50%, but that Ron acted without her: “I should have been part of the process,” she says.
“I knew I overstepped, and I haven’t done it since,” says Ron, 65, who retired last year from a job as an educational technology supervisor. That night the couple resolved to always act together on major money decisions.
The Becks figured out early on just how critical it is to work as a team when it comes to finances. And a new survey by MONEY underscores the lesson. The poll, which compares the perceptions and behaviors of some 500 millennials and 500 boomers when it comes to their relationships and money, reveals distinct differences in their approaches to financial matters. But one theme crosses generations: Couples who are in sync on issues like saving and budgeting feel more financially secure, argue less about money—and have hotter sex lives. In other words, financial synchronicity can help you achieve not only greater financial stability but greater marital satisfaction.
But let’s face it, even if you and your partner are constantly improving your financial compatibility and see eye to eye on things like the budget and savings goals, you’ll still occasionally argue about money. How you handle the disagreements is what matters most. Carol and Ron Beck’s first marital money fight may not have felt good at the time, but they dealt with it healthily: They talked it out.
A Fidelity survey found that 38% of money arguments are never resolved in a way that makes both people happy. And no wonder: Some 16% of millennials and 15% of boomers in MONEY’s poll say they resort to the silent treatment; 12% of millennials and 8% of boomers say someone walks away.
That’s not good for your marriage or your money. Not talking about the problem compounds the stress and makes it more likely the argument will recur, says Kim Olver, a relationship coach and the author of Secrets of Happy Couples. Plus, leaving the situation unresolved can put stress on your finances. “Do you want to be right?” Olver asks. “Or do you want a strong union? That takes compromise.”
Here’s how you can keep money tiffs from becoming money wars.
Acknowledge the argument. If you need to cool off, fine. But don’t go more than 24 hours before touching base with your partner. Consider starting with an apology even if you don’t think you need to. “Accept that you are 50% of the problem,”says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and the author of Mind Over Money. (Remember, the goal is not to “win” but to achieve agreeable resolution.) And rather than hijacking your spouse, ask for an appointment. You might say, “Honey, I’m sorry I pushed back when you mentioned buying a new car. Can we set aside time to talk more about it?”
Focus on the fear, not the fight. Klontz suggests that before meeting, you each write down the money worry prompting the argument, then face each other for a discussion. The ground rules: One person talks uninterrupted about his or her fears, avoiding blame and concentrating on facts. The other must repeat back what is said until the speaker is satisfied he or she was heard correctly. Then switch and repeat.
After Carol Beck blew up at Ron about the condo, they sat down, and “he explained to me why he thought it was a good decision.” She agreed to sign the papers. “After the property got rented, I relaxed a bit and saw that Ron was right,” she says. “Now we talk about everything together. We handle investments very differently than we did that time.”