Agree, Compromise, or Align

  • By NestWise
  • April 19, 2013

are you on the same page as your spouse about your financial life?

We talk a lot about what matters most to YOU. What if YOU are in a relationship with someone who has other ideas about what matters? Esther Stearns, our CEO, talks about being on the same page as your spouse about your financial life.

At NestWise we talk a lot about what matters most to YOU. But what if YOU are married to or in a relationship with someone who has other ideas about what matters most? Money is so personal and our attitudes are so influenced by how we were raised and what we have experienced. The odds of any two people agreeing completely about money are pretty low. I know that many couples find differences in their attitudes toward money to be very challenging. While writing this article, I did a search on the causes of divorce and I’m not sure what data supports this—but it is pretty easy to believe that conflicts about money are a major cause of divorce.

I think with the right approach, divergent views on money can actually be a source of strength in a relationship. What I mean by that is that often in decision making, multiple points of view can lead to challenging assumptions that are worth thinking about twice. And that can lead to better ideas. Shouldn't this be true with any couple or family working together to plan what to spend, what to save for, what to invest and what to give back- all based on what matters to them? You and your spouse may have different views on credit. Should you buy before you have the money or save for what you want? Or, maybe you may have different views on giving to others. One of you may prefer to help friends and family and another likes to support established charities. When I put it this way I can say easily that no one is right and no one is wrong. But when it is about my family, it’s not so easy to have that perspective! And yet that perspective is essential to getting the benefits of two people’s insights in developing a plan of action for your family. The goal in working together on a plan is not to change each other’s mind but to align on what actions you will take together. This will give you the benefit of both perspectives.

When resolving money conflicts in a relationship it is helpful to think about three concepts: agreement, compromise and alignment. When a couple sees things differently one possible outcome is that they eventually come to agreement. After talking it through, the couple may realize that they agree, that one person is right, or that their disagreement was superficial, or they may find a whole new way of thinking that both can agree on. But I hate to count on getting to agreement in all cases. Sometimes two people just can't get to that place. And then compromise is always an option. Each person gives a little. But over the long haul compromise takes a toll. Money can be so emotional that compromising your approach can be tough.

But consider alignment. With this approach, a couple finds a course of action that meets the needs of both people. They may be doing the same thing for different reasons but they are both getting their needs met and they are in agreement about what to do.

Let me give you some examples. I think that you may find these examples familiar.

Spend Now or Later

Our first couple has a classic conflict. She likes to save for what she wants. She never buys anything until she has the cash. He sees no issue with using his credit card knowing that he will pay it off. He is not drowning in debt but it feels that way to her. It seems unlikely that either of these two will fundamentally change their views. They may compromise but you can imagine the challenges of that over time. They decide to make some purchases on credit and some by cash. It’s an ongoing struggle.

But what could alignment look like? After doing a comprehensive Financial Plan, this couple has a clear understanding of what they need to be saving for and how much they need to put away. They both breathe a little freer and can talk about spending more comfortably because they know what they can afford to buy. In that framework they align on how and when they will use credit and map their total spending to their plan. Credit or cash would become less of an issue. And although she generally pays the bills, he agrees to pay the credit card bill—because it just bugs her to do it. And they both feel more in control of what is important to them. They are working as a team toward their goals.


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For informational purposes only. Not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The examples given are hypothetical and not representative of any specific situation.