1. Remember that your relationship is about more than the bottom line
I used to think that nobody else had money issues like David and me. Every time we fought, it felt as if there was something seriously wrong with our marriage. And, of course, that worry only made our money "talks" even more tense. The truth is, no two people are ever in complete agreement over money. "Even if you and your partner are both savers or both spenders, you will still polarize about money, and that's okay," says Olivia Mellan, a mom of three in Washington, DC, and author of Money Harmony. One person will eventually become more of a spender or a saver to balance out the other, and disagreements are bound to happen -- but not because there's some hidden flaw in your marriage. Simply knowing that can help you face your differences and discuss them calmly. For me, once I took my Oh-my-God-are-we-just-a-bad-match? fear out of the equation, I was more confident about bringing up the subject of money and less angry when David and I discussed it. Who knew? He responded in kind.
2. Share your history
A big part of how you deal with money today is based on how your parents handled it. "When you know the reasons driving your spouse's behavior, it makes more sense and you're less likely to feel angry when you disagree," says certified financial planner Sarah Young Fisher, president of Kuntz Lesher Capital LLC in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a mom of two.
Taking her husband's childhood into account worked for Vicki Brown, a mom of two in Atlanta. "When I realized that my husband, who's a spender, grew up without any extras or luxuries, I became less resentful and more compassionate," says Brown, who's in charge of the family's finances. "Now when I get upset, I try to remember that fact, especially when he's splurging on something for our children that he didn't have growing up, like a wonderful vacation. It's not that we don't ever disagree now, but at least I get where he's coming from."
3. Give a little credit
Even if your partner's financial habits are totally foreign to you, there's usually something you can admire about them. The hard part is that every now and then, you have to tell him! "This creates goodwill in a marriage and makes the other person feel safe enough to take an honest look at his own issues," says Mellan.
I can attest to the power of a compliment, which I tried on the night David and I pay bills -- a chore that usually ends with us going to bed without speaking. When I spied the cost of a pricey fishing pole on our Visa bill, I took a deep breath, then told him that I admired how he can buy something without overanalyzing it. I'd never said that to him before, out of fear he'd just spend more. David immediately relaxed, and told me that my diligence in managing our bank accounts and the kids' college funds was one reason he thought I was a wonderful mother. (Yay! I was more than an annoying, tightfisted wife!) That night, not only did we go to bed on speaking terms, we actually felt closer.