This article was first posted at U.S. News and World Report Money.
It’s a common story. One partner in a marriage realizes the value of financial responsibility and starts working in earnest to improve the couple’s financial situation. Meanwhile, the other partner hasn’t had that epiphany and prefers to continue old financial habits.
Inevitably, these situations end up in conflict. The actions each spouse takes on a daily basis are pulling their finances in opposite directions. Just like two mules pulling on opposite ends of the wagon, no progress is made and both partners are frustrated.
Arguments ensue. Frustration takes hold. Poor decisions are made. These situations can eventually cause a marriage to dissolve.
What can you do if your spouse’s financial decisions are working against all of your plans and efforts? Here are three approaches that are well worth trying.
Approach your spouse with love, not anger. If you are actually angry about your spouse’s financial choices, you’re not in the right mindset to sit down and talk about things. Anger will solve nothing. It merely turns the discussion into an “I’m right and you’re wrong” competition.
You absolutely have to let go of the “I’m right and you’re wrong” mindset. Instead, you need to look at your partner as someone you care deeply about who happens to have different goals and plans for the future than you do.
Simply having different goals and plans for the future does not make your partner “wrong” and it does not make you “right.” It just means you’re not on the same page.
When you sit down with your partner, keep that idea in mind. You love this person. This person simply has different views about the future – and the steps needed to get there – than you do.
Set goals together, watch the progress, and hold each other accountable. If you have different goals for the future, it’s going to be hard to make progress. Instead, you need to find goals that you share. What do you both want to achieve?
One effective exercise for figuring this out is to separately make a list of ten goals you have for the next five years. Then, sit down together and go over those lists.
Rather than fretting about the goals you each have that are different, focus heavily on the ones you have in common. A married couple will almost always have at least a few goals in common.
Put those goals front and center in your life. Work out a plan that you’re both happy with for achieving that goal, then work together toward that goal.
Most of all, you should both work on keeping both of you accountable toward that goal. Your plan for that goal should make it clear what you each need to do to get there and the goal is something you both want, so you always have that as a baseline. Take some time each month to make sure that you are both doing your part.
What if you still find it difficult? If you’re finding your plans hard to stick to, you may need to revise your plan. It’s very easy to make a plan that’s too difficult to live by on a day-to-day basis because that plan conflicts with the other values in your life.
Seek professional counseling. If you’re finding it difficult to have discussions without anger or you’re having difficulty finding strong, mutually shared goals, you should consider professional counseling.
Marriages without basic communication or without shared goals are troubled, but they’re not without the possibility of saving. Often, it requires a skilled mediator who can help open up those channels of communication and help both of you find common goals upon which you can build.
If this feels like the right approach for your situation, it’s worth your time to find a solid, reputable marriage counselor. Marriage Builders offers some strong advice on finding a good counselor.
Regardless of your situation, a successful marriage requires commitment from both partners. If you’re not both willing to take steps and work hard to save the marriage, it’s not going to work. This does not mean simply giving in to all of the wishes of your partner. It means finding common ground that you’re both happy with.