How to Stop Fighting with Your Husband
The Money Fight
The Battle: He comes home with a new toaster, purchased at the grocery store (where it couldn't possibly cost more), because I mentioned ours "smells funny." Me: "Are you kidding? We don't need that -- and even if we did, haven't you heard of sales? You never think things through!" Him: "What's the big deal? It wasn't expensive." To me, he's reckless and impulsive. To him, I'm controlling and a penny-pincher.
The Subtext: "Money emerges as the biggest problem in divorce cases," says cultural historian Pamela Haag, author of Marriage Confidential. And let's be clear: There are money conflicts far more dire than ours. But the origins are the same: "All money sensitivities originate with the family you grew up in," says Bonnie Eaker Weil, PhD, coauthor of Make Up, Don't Break Up. Neither Thad nor I come from wealth, but my family balanced the checkbook to the penny and spent carefully and strategically. His lived paycheck to paycheck and always fretted about cash, which he swore he'd never do. So now he buys what he needs when he needs it, regardless of price. Yes, each of us knew this going in to our marriage and respected where the other was coming from. Still, our differences flare up nearly every time he shops.
The Fix: I try Dr. Gottman's tip to use a "softer start-up" to the fight -- no 0-to-60 yelling, no blazing guns, no accusations. So, instead of "Are you kidding?" I say, "I understand that you don't like to worry about this stuff, but I feel like we're spending money that we don't need to spend." Thad's fix is more practical: He agrees to discuss house/kid/life purchases with me before he pulls out his credit card. And I'll try not to freak when he buys underwear at Kohl's at full price even though there's a 30-percent-off coupon sitting on the kitchen counter.
The Upshot: Our agreement works best when he doesn't call me from Sam's Club, debating whether or not to buy a snowblower. Because, while it's easy to stop the character assassinations (I hadn't even realized I was being so mean), it is very tough to immediately access my kinder, gentler self during a random phone call about a wholly unnecessary purchase. Still, when we both do what we've promised, the money fights abate.