Part of what attracted me to the man I married 18 years ago was how much we had in common. In so many ways, we were a LOT alike.
By Gwen Rockwood
Even after three kids and nearly two decades of being a couple, we still mostly agree on the big stuff – parenting, religion, politics, what movie to go see and even what temperature to set the thermostat on.
But one of the not-so-great things we learned after we got married is that, financially speaking, we’re opposites. He never met a dollar he didn’t want to worry about and save, and I would rather not talk numbers – ever, if possible.
Of course, not talking about numbers and/or being a financial control freak are the very same behaviors that land so many couples in recurring arguments. Couples approach each other from separate financial corners and end up trading emotionally bitter blows as they try to win the power struggle.
“The problem is when the nerd neglects the input of the free spirit or when the free spirit avoids participating in the financial dealings altogether.”
When these money battles aren’t dealt with in a healthy way, the marriage often ends in divorce. Jeffrey Dew, an associate professor at Utah State University, conducted a study finding that couples who fight weekly about money are 52% more likely to divorce than those who argue about money monthly.
So why are we so often drawn to a person who is our financial opposite? Perhaps it’s a way of trying to balance ourselves out. Dave Ramsey, who is a businessman, author and radio host of a popular financial advice show, said that the “opposites attract” logic shows up in relationships and has an impact on money conflicts.
“Chances are, if you’re married, one of you is good at working numbers (the nerd) and the other one isn’t good at working numbers (the free spirit). That isn’t the real problem,” Ramsey writes. “The problem is when the nerd neglects the input of the free spirit or when the free spirit avoids participating in the financial dealings altogether.”
Ramsey advises couples to work through a household budget together, with the full knowledge that each person gets an equal vote. “Listen up, nerds. Don’t keep the money all to yourself. Don’t use your ‘power’ to abuse the free spirit. Free spirits, don’t just nod your head and say, ‘Yeah, that looks great, honey.’ …Give feedback, criticism and encouragement.”
Like many financial advisors, Ramsey also suggests setting aside a monthly allowance for each spouse that is “fun money,” and how it gets spent doesn’t need to be discussed or approved by the other spouse.
At our house, my husband and I have realized that we will likely always be financial opposites, but we have learned to live with those differences. After years of money arguments, we finally flipped the way we manage the money. Even though I’m not too interested in numbers and he has the uncanny ability to remember almost all numbers, I took over as the chief bill payer.
“So, the good news is that even financial opposites can find a way to their happily ever after.”
The new arrangement did two things. First, it forced me to finally get involved and know our family’s financial numbers, which every spouse should know. Just being aware of how quickly money goes out of our account to pay bills has made me more financially conservative.
Letting go of the day-to-day bill paying has also helped my husband experience less anxiety about money, since it’s not constantly staring him in the face or swirling around in his head. We still discuss the finances, but it’s more of a team sport these days versus a “who spent what and why” interrogation. I wish we’d traded roles years ago, honestly. It’s so much better this way.
So, the good news is that even financial opposites can find a way to their happily ever after. There may be a few speed bumps along the way. The couple must be willing to stop and get directions from a professional when necessary, but it is doable.
And perhaps along the way, those “spenders” learn to reign in their more extreme money impulses, and the “savers” learn to loosen up and live a little. See? Opposites attracting isn’t so bad, after all.