Sarah and I argue about politics sometimes. We have different perspectives on a lot of political issues and sometimes that will cause us to have rather vigorous debates on things. I tend to be more concerned about civil liberties than Sarah is, for example, and our different feelings on civil liberties and privacy caused us to have more than a few disagreements about Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, for example.
At the end of the day, though, we still care for each other deeply. Our political disagreements – or my disdain for Sarah’s taste in movies or her eye-rolling at my constant suggestion to play more board games – aren’t what makes up the basics of our relationship.
Our relationship is based on other things. We agree fundamentally on how to treat other people. We agree on how to parent our children and how important it is to communicate with each other. We also agree on how to use the resources we share – our money being a major part of that.
Our real problems occur when those fundamental things get out of line. One of us starts using our shared resources in a way the other doesn’t feel is right. One of us doesn’t communicate a problem. One of us makes a poor parenting decision. Those are the things that cause real problems – and, yes, our marriage, like any other, sometimes has problems.
One of us will do one of those things that’s fundamentally disruptive and it causes conflict. I’ll overspend on something or Sarah will make a parenting decision that’s baffling or I won’t talk about something that’s bothering me.
Every marriage has those problems. I don’t know of one that doesn’t sometimes have problems with these kinds of fundamental issues sometimes.
Money problems are a powerful example of this. Not only do they occur out of a disagreement over how to use those shared resources, they usually involve a communication failure at the same time.
What matters is how you deal with them when they inevitably happen.
Avoiding them causes the problem to fester and grow worse and it also causes the problem to repeat itself.
Sticking firmly to your guns and simply attacking the other person doesn’t help, either. It causes both people to stick to their beliefs.
What does work?
So far, I’ve only found one thing that consistently works. If we both don’t do this, then it doesn’t work, but if we both try this sincerely, it almost always works.
It’s simple. We both seriously ask ourselves what we did wrong to cause the conflict. There is rarely a conflict in which both sides are completely blameless. Then, we share what we figured out. (We often don’t do this in quite such an orderly fashion, but our problems are always solved by following that structure.)
In other words, if you’re frustrated with your partner, a big part of the solution is figuring out what you are doing wrong.
Are you quick to anger? Are you neglecting some part of what’s important to your partner? Are you taking the good things your partner does for granted?
This only works if you both do it and if you both share what you figure out. That requires communication and a willingness to find fault in yourself, not just your partner.
Every time we do this, our problems usually melt away (given a little bit of time and some conversations). One (or both) of us might make mistakes, but when we do those two things, those mistakes resolve themselves. We figure out together how to get past them.
We’re not perfect in doing this, of course. We have marital issues that we both have difficulty resolving. Yet, over and over again, when we overcome our pride and our sense of “I’m right and you’re wrong,” we usually end up finding things that work and fixing things that don’t.
If you’re struggling with a financial issue (or other issue) in your marriage, I encourage you to send this article to your partner and just ask him or her to give it some thought. Then, in a day or two, follow it up with an admission of what you have done wrong and what you’re going to do to make it better.
You very well might find yourself taking the first steps down the path to fixing the problems.