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Forget the Money. Focus on Feelings

Updated: Feb 20

3 Winning Strategies to Overcome THIS Common Marital Money Dispute

Money matters are one of the top causes of disagreements among couples. And that, in itself, makes it necessary to mind our money in our marriage.

The Empathy Gap

Our emotions play a significant role in our financial decision-making. Many argue much more so than our financial knowledge. The gap in our inability to correctly identify how our emotions impact our behavior is the empathy gap.

And it is THIS issue that can be the root of marital disputes about money.

Forget the Money. Focus on Feelings
The empathy gap

When we underestimate how much emotions impact our financial choices, we fail to factor in emotions when making predictions. We falsely believe that the feelings we have when we set financial goals are no different than the feelings we have when we face the temptations of straying from our goals.

The empathy gap also makes us less likely to understand the behavior of spouses in different emotional states.

Let me explain.

How the empathy gap works

Imagine you and your partner set a budget together. Three weeks later, you're reviewing your credit card statement and notice quite a few significant transactions made by your spouse on a night out with her friends. She intended to follow the budget but failed to follow the spending plan you built together.

When you agreed on a spending plan, you were thinking rationally, free of emotion. When your partner overspent, she was overwhelmed with emotion. She was with her best friends from college, a few of which she hadn't seen in years. Why? One of them had just lost her husband. The furthest thing from her mind was a spreadsheet.

We're human beings, not Excel spreadsheets. So keep that in mind when approaching your spouse about her spending decisions.

She didn't fail to budget. Y'all failed to put systems in place to make it harder to deviate from the budget you built together.

It is almost impossible for us to avoid the influence of emotions on our behavior, so instead, we must acknowledge their impact. The empathy gap is primarily an issue that causes us to incorrectly predict our future behavior, which means that understanding that the way we feel, not just rational logic, impacts how we act, we can take emotions into account in our predictions.

Three winning strategies to solve money disputes in marriage

1. Open Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of any relationship, and this holds especially true regarding finances. Often, financial problems arise not from the issue itself but from a need for more open discussion about it.

Couples should regularly discuss their financial status, goals, and concerns. This can involve discussing income, debt, savings, and spending habits. Transparency and honesty are crucial and can help avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings.

We have two go-to articles for folks hesitant about having an open conversation with your spouse about money:

What to talk about matters much more than simply talking. Putting in place to make good decisions easier and bad decisions harder is far more important.

2. Devise Systems for Success

As mentioned in our previous post, "Why Budgets Do NOT Work," people who are good at self-control structure their lives to avoid making self-control decisions.

More specifically, make good decisions easier to make and bad decisions harder to make.

Forget the Money. Focus on Feelings

3. Agree on Major Financial Decisions

Couples should always consult each other before making significant financial decisions. This can range from making large purchases to investment choices. Agreeing on a spending limit for individual purchases can help prevent disagreements.

Spending limits can also promote a sense of fairness. Both partners have the same spending cap, so no one feels like they're shouldering more financial responsibility.

Overcoming Financial Trauma

Rahkim Sabree CFEI®,RFC®AFC® Candidate. Rahkim is an author, Forbes columnist, and financial coach who focuses on the intersection of financial education and financial trauma as a barrier to achieving financial empowerment.

Rahkim was a guest on the Modern Husbands Podcast. His insight can help provide context as to why some folks need to focus on the emotion of money before they can take a step to manage money well with their partner.


Learn More

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Leger, Patrick. “The Best Ways for Couples to Manage Finances.” The Wall Street Journal, 14 Feb. 2022,

Mischel W, Ebbesen EB, Zeiss AR. Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1972 Feb;21(2):204-18. doi: 10.1037/h0032198. PMID: 5010404.

Saxler, Patricia Kasak. 2016. The Marshmallow Test: Delay of Gratification and Independent Rule Compliance. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Galla BM, Duckworth AL. More than resisting temptation: Beneficial habits mediate the relationship between self-control and positive life outcomes. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015 Sep;109(3):508-25. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000026. Epub 2015 Feb 2. PMID: 25643222; PMCID: PMC4731333.

“Empathy Gap.” The Decision Lab, Accessed 3 Aug. 2023.


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