How to Fight Fair About MoneyPam Franz
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. – Ephesians 4:29
Every healthy relationship involves conflict. In fact, psychologist John Gottman, who has spent more than 20 years studying what makes marriages last, believes that “fighting . . . can be one of the healthiest things a couple can do for their relationship.”
In his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, which I highly recommend, Gottman says that how couples fight is “one of the most telling ways to diagnose the health of your marriage.”
So, don’t try to avoid conflict around money. Instead, learn to fight fair. Here’s how:
Complain, Don’t Criticize
A complaint focuses on the other person’s behavior; criticism focuses on their character. An example of a complaint is “You overspent your clothing budget again this month.” It becomes criticism when you blame or verbally attack the other person by adding a comment such as, “That was really selfish of you.”
Even worse than criticism, contempt insults or psychologically abuses your partner. An example: “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you ever think before you spend?”
Be especially vigilant about not letting these types of comments creep into your relationship. Think about the words you use and avoid any that convey contempt.
When you’re on the receiving end of a complaint, your instinct will be to respond quickly. Go against that instinct. Instead, listen actively to what the other person has to say. Make sure you understand the issue by asking clarifying questions and mirroring back what you hear.
Stay With It
Gottman says men especially are likely to bail out of an argument. Even if they don’t grab the remote in the middle of the conversation and switch on SportsCenter, they may check out by responding with silence. Guys: stay focused.
Two Keys to a Great Marriage
Gottman has drawn two simple, powerful conclusions from his years of studying what makes for a healthy marriage. The first is a straightforward mathematical formula: “You must have five times as many positive as negative moments together if your marriage is to be stable.”
The second is this: “Most couples I’ve worked with over the years really wanted just two things from their marriage—love and respect.” While men and women both need love and respect, women especially need to feel loved by their husband and men especially need to feel respected by their wife. This point about love and respect would make for some especially helpful conversation. Women, ask the man in your life, “What do I do, financially speaking, that makes you feel respected?” And, “What else could I do?” Guys, ask the woman in your life, “What do I do, financially speaking, that makes you feel loved.” And, “What else could I do?”
As I’ve written before, the insights you gain from this conversation could go a long way toward making money work really well in your relationship.
Who do you know who could benefit from reading this article? Please forward it to them. There are many more ideas for creating financial oneness in marriage in my book, “Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples.“
What have you learned about fighting fair that could help your marriage and others?