Money problems don't need to be severe to strain your relationship with your spouse. In fact, financial differences are the leading cause of marital discord today, according to Dr. Howard Markman, codirector of the center for marital and family studies at the University of Denver.
So does that mean your marriage is doomed if you shop for CDs at the bank while your spouse heads for the electronics store? Not necessarily, says Olivia Mellan, a Washington, DC-based psychotherapist and author of Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Relationships (Walker and Co., 1995).
Most money conflicts can be solved by better communication with your partner. "Sharing power and decision-making is paramount, even if one person thinks they're better at investing or managing money," Mellan says.
When it comes to talking about money, timing is everything. Pick a good moment -- not when your spouse is placing an online buy or sell order -- to communicate your concern. And try not to attack.
"Don't accuse your partner, but focus instead on how the behavior is making you feel -- lonely, sad, apprehensive," Mellan says.
Be specific about what's troubling you. For example: "I'm feeling upset about the money we're spending on this start-up business."
Finally, assume that win-win situations are possible. You may find that your needs can be different but not necessarily mutually exclusive. Learning to empathize with the other person is the key to resolving conflict. "Without empathy, there can't be any progress," Mellan says.
For couples who come to an impasse, professional help is available. Financial counselors who have both personal-finance and family-counseling skills can help you root out psychological barriers to sound money management, while helping you with goals such as building credit, budgeting, and saving to buy a home. Financial counseling can cost anywhere from $35 to $125 a session.
In addition, free counseling can often be obtained through credit unions or employee-assistance programs, according to Sharon Burns, executive director of the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. To find a financial counselor in your area, contact the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education or one of the other organizations below.