Sex and money consistently rank as the top two reasons why couples fight. In both cases, one member of the pair just can't seem to get enough of what he or she views as a scarce commodity. According to nearly every survey on the topic, arguments about money have the dubious honor of being the number one source of conflict between married people. In fact, according to a booklet entitled Making Marriage Last, published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, problems relating to financial matters are a major reason why marriages break down.

The Facts

Managing your finances is a chore. Like all the chores couples need to complete (everything from cutting the grass and taking out the trash, to washing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom), the division of labor is rarely 50/50. When it comes to money, one spouse may be more interested in managing it, while the other is interested in doing the spending. Sometimes, one spouse won't even talk or think about the topic.

The less-interested spouse often views money as a means of control, and may believe that the person holding the purse strings gets to make the decisions – inequitably so. While the essence of that viewpoint is accurate, the person managing money often views saving instead of spending as merely the proper way of staying out of debt, and never thinks about it terms of control. Because it is possible for people to have such very different views about money, sometimes it's best to seek common ground before discussing exactly how this week's paycheck will be spent. (To learn how to set up a budget, check out our Budgeting 101 feature.)

The Rules

To keep money from becoming an obstacle in your relationship, you need set ground rules for how your household will handle the topic. Put these rules in place before you enter into a spending-related dispute. The thick of an argument is not a great place to try and come to a consensus.

Here are two basic rules for interacting with your spouse when making spending decisions:

  1. Don't hide it.
  2. Don't lie about it.

While your spouse won't be too happy about your $300 splurge on a new putter or high-end purse, you shouldn't attempt to cover up or lie about your extravagant expense. Relationships rooted in truth are far stronger than those based on deceit.

Once you've both agreed to be honest, you need a way to break stalemates at decision time. The best choice here is that consensus rules. Of course, if you can't find common ground on a particular decision, you should agree in advance that prudence takes precedence. With prudence as your guideline, you will be more likely to make the choice to save instead of spend when you can't agree that spending is a good idea. Setting up a budget can be a great way to develop a mutually-agreed-upon vision of your spending and saving habits. (To learn more about creating budgets, see Get Your Budget In Fighting Shape and The Beauty Of Budgeting.)

If you set rules, but still can't come to an agreement, consider counseling. Arguing is often unproductive; throwing up your hands and walking away rarely accomplishes much. Sometimes, an impartial moderator can help frustrated couples see eye to eye. The key is to stay engaged in the process as you develop spending habits you are happy with as a couple and as individuals. (For additional insight into how getting hitched can affect your bottom line, check out Marriage, Divorce And The Dotted Line, You Can't Live On Love and Relationship Money Matters.)

However, if you dislike dealing with money so much that you willingly delegate all responsibility for spending-related decisions, be willing to live with the consequences of such an approach. It's not fair to your partner if you don't help and won't stay engaged, but still complain.

Teamwork

Making decisions about money is part of building a life together. Building should be a constructive process, so you need to work hand in hand, not in opposition. Set goals together, and spend your money in ways that will bring you closer to achieving those goals. If a particular expenditure doesn't lead you toward your goals, avoid the expenditure. Don't let conspicuous consumption lead you astray. If you're working together as a team instead of fighting about money, you just might have enough time and energy left over to put some effort into getting that other scarce resource that you've been seeking.