My friend Sarah called the other day, seeking some relationship advice. She and Henry have been married for more than 26 years, and the squabbles they've always had over money haven't disappeared as the years have gone by, Sarah told me — they’ve actually gotten worse.
“It’s just so exhausting!” grumbled Sarah. “Too often, I feel angry, stressed and tense. These arguments are also definitely affecting how I feel about our relationship.” On the positive side, Henry and Sarah still care about each another deeply, share a number of interests, and enjoy spending time together.
Sarah is 57 and a self-employed real estate agent who makes a decent income, and Henry, a year younger, pulls down an even healthier salary as a CPA in a large firm. He likes to spend money on leisure activities and luxury items, but she feels they should be saving for their grandchildren and retirement. “He’s Mr. You Can’t Take It With You, and I’m more focused on keeping it for a rainy day. And it’s freaking me out!”
Sarah told me these differences have always been a bone of contention, but recently the arguments have gotten out of hand. “In the past, with the happy distraction of raising our daughters [now 21 and 23], our different attitudes about saving and spending money didn't bother me so much. But now I feel like our stupid money fights are detracting from the quality of our marriage. At times, I am just so angry that I totally ignore him for hours and don't want to see or talk to him.”
Sarah is in good company. In my research on long-married couples, seven out of 10 reported that money causes tension in their relationship. That may be why so many couples avoid the topic entirely. One study found that financial disagreements are often the most distressing for couples: They're more intense, last longer and are more likely to persist unresolved than other conflict topics.
So how do Sarah and Henry begin coping with their money issues without damaging what otherwise is a fulfilling relationship? I gave Sarah seven strategies that can be helpful no matter how long a couple has been married.
(MORE: Don't Let Your Ex Ruin Your Credit)
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