Picture this: You’re standing in the kitchen with your partner, avoiding eye contact while a silent and slow tension builds in the air. The mail sits opened on the kitchen table between you. It’s staring at you both, testing you, but neither one of you wants to be the first to acknowledge it. Passively, one of you succumbs to the discomfort and picks up the credit card bill that is sitting on the top of the pile. And it begins…. What could have been a perfectly civil conversation begins with a gasp or growl, followed by a borage of questions and attacks.

“How is our credit card bill so high again?” “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to charge that?” “Where do you think we’re going to get the money to pay for this?” “You promised you were going to cut back going out to lunch this month.”

What comes next is a series of defensive maneuvers and blame-shifting that eventually leads to some pretty impressive shouting or, for those of you who didn’t grow up in a loud Italian family like me, piercing angry eye stare-downs that basically conveys the same message: I’m really mad about the finances and I’m taking it out on you right now. What if I told you that money conversations didn’t have to go this way? What if there was a way to stop having the same money arguments over and over again? There is. Money can fuel some pretty passionate responses and reactions, which is why the first step toward avoiding money arguments is to stop being reactive and start planning for proactive money conversations instead. Here’s how.

Get on the same page

Schedule time for both of you to talk uninterrupted about the household finances. I recommend creating an agenda together on what you want to cover and accomplish during your planned talk. This will help you keep your conversation focused and productive.

  • Review the state of the finances so both of you know exactly what your money situation is. Is debt an issue? Not enough savings? Don’t feel like you’re on track to meet your goals? Having both of you aware and involved will help keep you aligned.
  •  Speaking of goals, you should have specific ones for your money. How much are you trying to save and for what purpose? Are you buying a new home, starting a business, growing your family or simply trying to build your rainy day fund? Target specific amounts you’d like to stash away and assign a time period for building up the savings for each goal.
  • Discuss roles and responsibilities for managing the finances, such as paying bills, saving, monitoring, etc.
  • Share what you think is working and what could be working better (or really isn’t working at all).
  •  Agree how you’ll communicate and work together going forward (perhaps preparing ahead of time before coming to meetings / money talks.

You may have this particular conversation a few times before you’re finally on the same page. The real point of this conversation is to lay it all out on the table, explore the finances together and hash out anything that needs to be addressed so that it doesn’t continue to cause arguments in the future.

Schedule regular money talks

From here, keep communication open by continuing to schedule time to talk about money. Scheduling is key, because it isn’t a reaction to someone or something. Instead, it’s a commitment you’re both making to stay present with the finances. Maintaining a monthly budget together is a great way to keep each other accountable and engaged in the process. Proactively planning on how much you’ll save, what you need to cover your regular expenses, and allocating a certain amount of funds for undefined discretionary purchases helps to prevent any surprises on your credit card statement and anyone from being caught off guard.

Don’t point fingers

Finger pointing won’t get you anywhere when it comes to actually making progress with your money. In my experience, it may be better to avoid “you” comments altogether and opt for the “we,” because your money story includes both of you after all. So rather than saying, “You always spend too much going out to eat during the week.” A better way to address this particular issue (during your scheduled regular money talks) is to say, “We continue to spend more than we allocated on going out to eat. Are there any ways we can limit or better track these expenses? Or should we cut back on another area instead so it balances out?” Remember, it’s about resolving the finances together, not attacking one another.

Give praise

Kind, positive affirmations go a long way, especially after a history of arguments and criticisms. Be supportive of each other and give praise when praise is do. Acknowledge the other person for their contributions to household finances. Thank your wife for paying the bills. Praise your husband when he opts to pay more towards the car payment instead of using the discretionary money on himself. Help make each other feel good and appreciated when it comes to money. It’s not easy and you both deserve affirmations for the effort, intention and commitment you’re putting in to make it a more positive experience for both of you. When you make a choice as a couple to start communicating about money, you’re really choosing to work through and resolve the issues that activated your arguments in the first place. If you’re just starting out on your money journey together, the Newlywed Money Bootcamp may be a great place to begin your financial future.