My wife Kara and I see eye to eye on most everything, but for whatever reason, when it comes to budgeting we almost always butt heads. Part of it is that our priority lists are different, part of it is that she is the one who keeps track of most expenses, and part of it is just the fact that we both like to be right. Early in our marriage these tensions could really cause a lot of problems. Kara didn’t think I was realistic in my goals, and I felt like she wouldn’t listen to my point of view. It seemed that every month we were in for an argument.
To this day we still argue about financial questions, and we still bring different perspectives to the table. But we’ve learned that these conflicts can actually bring us closer together, that it’s something that enhances our marriage because two heads are better than one. Neither of us always gets our way and that’s a good thing.
Sometimes having a perpetual disagreement is a good thing. It reminds us that everything isn’t about us, it gives us a new viewpoint, and it can lead us to work as a team. Dr. John Gottman says there are two types of problems in marriage, the ones you can solve and the ones you can’t. What’s most important isn’t that you resolve every difference; the important thing is that you disagree respectfully, approaching problems as an opportunity for growth, and not an opportunity to be right. It’s always easier to say than do, but here are three strategies that Dr. Gottman suggests for arguing well.
01. Use “I” statements. We’re all prone to take things personally, and that can be a real sticking point in an argument. If you feel attacked it’s natural to want to defend yourself. That’s why “I” statements can be so helpful. Instead of saying, “You don’t care enough about our family to get home on time” try saying, “when you’re late I feel like you don’t care.” The first is a personal attack while the second let’s your spouse know how you feel, and you can avoid a fight.
02. Recognize the value of different points of view. When you’re in a relationship, it’s not all about you, and that’s a good thing! Your spouse can help you see things differently, find creative solutions, and take you out of your comfort zone. But that only happens if you’re open to learning from one another! Try asking questions to help you better understand where your husband or wife is coming from and maybe even test out each other’s ideas if you can.
03. Soften the Start. John Gottman has done fascinating research that shows that conflicts almost always end the same way they began. That means that if you want an argument to end well, you need to start it well. Calmly and gently, avoiding criticism and complaining. Instead address the issue as a problem to be solved together.
Family budget is one of those things Kara and I will probably always disagree on. But we are learning to use these disagreements as an opportunity to grow closer together and that is a win-win situation!