It's June, which means that soon wedding bells will be ringing and cash registers ca-ching-ing -- elaborate celebrations have been planned and extravagant gifts have been purchased. But before you take your walk down the aisle, you should have a serious conversation with your mate about how you'll pay those reception bills.
Money is the No. 1 source of conflict for couples, says clinical psychologist Dr. Les Parrott. Couples fight more about financial issues than about their kids, their jobs, the housework, and their friends.
And those fights can be a sign of worse things to come. Parrott cites a study by the National Survey of Families and Households that found that couples who disagree about money once a week are roughly 30 percent more likely to divorce than couples who report fighting about finances a few times each month.
"It doesn't matter how much money you have, whether it's a little or a lot," says Parrott. "Money represents power in a relationship. It represents our dreams, our future, and our security, so it's no wonder that the fur flies around money."
Parrott and his wife, Dr. Leslie Parrott, best-selling authors and founders of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, recently published their new book "The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer" to show couples how to minimize conflicts over money.
Why Money Causes Fights
Studies show that couples argue because they have different opinions on needs versus wants. They argue about unexpected expenses, insufficient savings, overspending, and money lies.
But all those topics are simply what's on the surface, Parrott says. Dig deeper and you'll find that there's a complex tangle of emotions fueling money fights.
"When couples fight about money, they're really fighting about a perceived threat, such as feeling manipulated by their spouse," says Parrott. "They'll fight because one person tells the other that they can't buy an expensive brand of coffee, but underneath the argument is really about feeling threatened."
Feeling neglected is another trigger for money fights. For example, if a husband buys expensive golf clubs without consulting his wife, the wife may feel that her partner doesn't care about her feelings.
"If you can identify what you're really experiencing, you can become more articulate and help your partner understand what you're thinking," says Parrott. "The goal isn't to rid yourself of financial fights. Our goal is to teach people how to fight about money."
Dredging Up the Past
Parrott says that the first thing couples should do -- ideally before they get married -- is to discuss how money was handled in their homes when they were growing up.
"If you can see your partner in the context of their past and get a sense of the DNA of their money personality, you'll be able to develop empathy," he says. "One spouse may have grown up in a house where Dad handled all the money and no one talked about it, while the other may have been raised in a house with a stockbroker who talked about investing at every meal."
He recommends setting aside time for a monthly or weekly financial conference, even if it's just a 10-minute conversation about your savings and your goals.
For couples with severe money conflicts, Parrott suggests a role-reversal exercise. For example, if you love to shop and spend and your fiance is a saver, try going to a store and have your fiance decide to buy all three shirts he likes instead of just one, while you try to dissuade him. This can help both of you understand how your spouse-to-be feels about money.
Get to the CORE of Your Fights
The Parrotts have developed the "CORE" strategy that applies to all fights, including those about money. "If you can bring in one of the CORE elements into your fight, the other elements will follow," says Parrott.
C = Cooperation. A good fight is one that has two winners rather than a winner and a loser, says Parrott.
O = Ownership. Take ownership of your own role in the dispute.
R = Respect. The Parrotts say that money brings out our selfish sides. Money matters cause us to play the blame game and become disrespectful. "Once you have disrespect in a conflict, it goes off the rails," says Parrott.
E = Empathy. Empathy is the most important element of a good conflict, because if you have the capacity to understand each other you can keep the conversation focused on what matters most, says Parrott. "We wish we could give empathy to everyone as a wedding present," says Parrott.
The Parrotts' book comes with a smartphone app called "Money Talks" that helps couples manage conflict when and where they need it. "The app helps you build the world's smallest social network, between the two of you," he says.
For engaged couples, the newly married, or long-term partners, Parrott says a professional consultation with a financial advisor is beneficial. "Depending on where you are financially, an advisor can help you set up your financial home together," he says. "It's important to get everything out on the table so there are no surprises, and a professional can help you with that."
If you can learn to handle your inevitable financial conflicts with empathy and calm, your chance of a lasting partnership can multiply faster than your investments.
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