There are few issues that can rock a relationship like money, and many relationships end because of wedges caused by money issues. Disagreements about finances rank right up there with parenting and sex when it comes to reasons for relationship strife. But these emotionally charged conflicts are often about much more than money. Money and finances can stir up complex feelings, and if you and your partner have different philosophies and beliefs about money, you may be in for a rocky ride.
One of the biggest causes of conflict in relationships is differences in values, goals, and habits related to money, and communication about money issues. To keep a relationship happy and peaceful, it’s important for couples to understand their beliefs about money, learn how to talk about money, and learn how to align their financial goals. If you can do these things, you will be well on your way to having one less thing to argue about!
What do you believe about money?
Our beliefs about money determine how we will think about and relate to money and financial issues in our lives. Many of our beliefs, whether accurate or not, were formed in childhood, and influenced by parents and other adult caregivers. Some of our attitudes and skills with money may be unhelpful, or even destructive, especially if our caregivers didn’t have a healthy relationship with money. Too often, children see their parents argue about finances, and this can further instill negative beliefs about money ( Klnotz, Britt, Mentzer, and Klontz, 2011).
Before delving into your financial issues with your partner, it can be helpful to evaluate your own the beliefs about money. This can help you understand your feelings and perhaps make changes in the way you relate to money and financial issues in your relationship. In an interview with Marie Forleo (2014) about her new book, Money, A Love Story, Kate Northrup shares some common beliefs that can get in the way of a healthy and successful relationship with money.
Someone else will fix my money problems: This problematic belief centers around the idea that someone will rescue you from money troubles, like debt or lack of income, thus relieving you of the responsibility. This enables you to avoid facing the financial issues in your life, and can create conflict with those you had hoped would rescue you. As long as this belief is at work, you cannot move forward and become empowered to take charge of financial issues.
I’m just not good with money: This belief holds you back and encourages you to avoid taking responsibilities or taking risks. Anyone can learn good money management skills. This belief may also enable you to hand over the reins when it comes to financial matters, potentially leaving you feeling in the dark or even resentful about family finances.
People with money are greedy, not spiritual, selfish, etc.: How can you ever have money if you believe people with money are bad people or have done bad things to get their money. Money is neither good nor bad, and it’s a part of life. Money is just a tool we use to exchange one thing (or service) of value for another.
I’m not enough: This includes beliefs such as: I’m not smart enough, good enough, or talented enough. When we don’t feel “enough”, we may start to feel undeserving of good things, including financial stability and success (4 Money Beliefs, 2014).
Other beliefs about money can cause us to spend money as soon as we get it, or conversely save every penny and live like a pauper. Extreme attitudes about spending and saving money develop for a variety of reasons. Perhaps, we saw our family struggle financially, so we are determined to always have enough money in the bank. This is fine, as long as we can also spend money when we want to. Or, maybe money is seen as a way to get things that make us feel good. Again, this is fine, as long as we can spend responsibly.
Check out your “Money Personality”
Our attitudes and beliefs about money guide our behaviors with money, for better or worse. Sally Palaian, a Licensed Psychologist, specializes in addictive behaviors and financial disorders. In her book, Spent: Break the Buying Obsession and Discover your True Worth (2006), she shares some “money personality styles” that may lead to problems in your relationship.
- Overindulgence: Those who overindulge demonstrate their money problems through overspending. This also includes compulsive shoppers, compulsive spenders, and compulsive debtors. This type of behavior could easily put you in the poor-house if not corrected.
- Deprivation: People who lean toward deprivation go to extreme efforts to spend as little as possible. Those who obsess over their finances tend to hoard money. Palaian describes them as having a pathological fear of spending and letting go of money to the point where they put relationships, financial well-being, health, and even their own safety at stake. The goal of the depriver is to save money at all costs—even if it means getting sick. In the long run, deprivers end up wasting money by not addressing necessities in a timely manner.
- Obsession: People who obsess dedicate an excessive amount of time to thinking about money and financial matters. They gain satisfaction from acquiring things and often can’t control themselves with money.
- Avoidance: Avoiders tend not to value money or think about it. They are fearful of wealth and view money as dirty or wrong. Those who avoid financial matters likely don’t know their monthly expenses and might rely on others to lend them money to cover their basic needs (Palaian, 2006).
Recognizing any of these patterns or beliefs about money is the first step toward making changes. If we are not aware of our feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, we can’t change them. Like other beliefs about money, and behaviors related to money, these may come from our experiences as children. Money issues can be complex and painful, but working through them will pay off in the long-run. When the issues become very explosive, or you’re just arguing about the same thing over and over again, there is a good chance that something else is going on. It’s about more than the money. Speaking with a skilled counselor can help sort through anger, fear, and other feelings and heal the real issues driving the conflict.
Something Deeper May be Lurking
Money issues are often entangled with things like love, happiness, power, security, control, dependence, independence, freedom, and more. Issues with money can signal that deeper issues that may have been neglected are at work. One major cause of conflict related to money is secrets. People often feel shame or anxiety about their own behaviors with money, or they fear that their partner will try to control their money—thereby, controlling them. This can result in hidden bank accounts, secret credit cards, and secret spending.
Unfortunately, according to psychotherapist, Olivia Mellen (2012), opposites seem to attract when it comes to money. People with very different beliefs about money and styles of spending seem to be attracted to each other. A person who hoards money to feel secure will marry a person who spends money to soothe a feeling of emptiness inside. This is a recipe for disaster. Adding to the problem is the fact that many of us grew up in families that didn’t talk about money—they may have fought about money, but they didn’t talk about it.
Cash Conversations: Talking, instead of fighting, about money
Once you begin to understand your own beliefs and some of the dynamics of money, you will be in a better position to talk, rationally, with your partner about your finances. Discussions about money don’t always have to result in crying and slamming doors. Here are some tips from Financial Coach, Adam Hagerman (2014) to help you have constructive and peaceful conversations about money:
- Realize that you’re different: Most couples have different opinions on how the household money should be handled. Insisting that things are done your way will only lead to a fight. Try looking at the situation from your partner’s point of view.
- Talk about your own flaws: It’s easy to point out the flaws in others. This approach never leads to anything good. Start by pointing out something you’ve done to hurt the household finances. Once you get that discussion out of the way, tell them that it’s their turn. Just let the conversation flow naturally, and avoid hurling accusations (Hagerman, 2014).
- Be willing to compromise: You already know that you’re both different. Because of this, you both need to be willing to compromise. If you’re both at least somewhat happy, you’ll be more likely to stick with the plan.
- Set some common financial goals: These are crucial to your success.Therefore, you need to sit down with your partner and discuss some common goals that you can both strive for. If you are both invested in the plan, you’re more likely to pull together toward the goal.
- Set-up meetings without distractions: Where have the majority of your money arguments happened? While cooking dinner? Sitting on the couch watching TV? These places are the last place you should be talking about money. Plan your discussions in a quiet place, like the library. Getting out of the house can help things feel more neutral and business-like. Once you get some things accomplished, celebrate by doing something fun. It’s great to get into the habit of feeling good after a discussion about money (Hagerman, 2014).
- Create a budget for guilt-free spending: As previously mentioned, you probably have differing opinions about money. Budget some “Fun Money” for each of you. This is individual spending money that is guilt-free. In other words, you’re not allowed to comment on what the other person uses their “Fun Money” for. It’s theirs to spend, or save, as they please.
- Discuss expense that go over a certain amount: For example, you might say that any single item purchase over $100 requires that you both discuss it first. This threshold could vary widely depending on how tight your budget is (Hagerman, 2014),
If you are still having trouble negotiating financial discussions, you may need to talk with a financial coach or a counselor. Having an unbiased person to discuss money issues with can help you sort through feelings and conflicts, reach goals, and have less conflict and stress about finances.
4 Money Beliefs That Limit Your Wealth Inside and Out w/ Kate Northrup [Interview by M. Forleo]. (2014). Retrieved August 19, 2014, from http://www.marieforleo.com/2014/01/money-beliefs/
Hagerman, A. (2014). 8 Tips For Talking About Money With Your Significant Other. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from http%3A%2F%2Fwww.adamhagerman.com%2Fmoney-and-relationships%2F
Klontz, B., PsyD, Britt, S., PhD, Mentzer, J., B.S., & Klontz, T., PhD. (2011). Money beliefs and financial behaviors: Development of the Klontz Money Script Inventory. Journal of Financial Therapy, 2(1), 1-22. doi: http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/34772/money-beliefs-and-financial-behaviors-development-the-klontz-money-script-inventory-jft-2011.pdf
Mellen, O., & Piskaldo, K. (2012, October 16). Men, Women, and Money. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199901/men-women-and-money
Palaian, S. (2009). Spent: Break the buying obsession and discover your true worth. Center City, MN: Hazelden.