Arguments about money are seldom just about money. They’re about values, insecurities, hopes, and dreams. They’re about what we learned about spending and saving in our original nuclear family. We inherit our attitudes about money from our parents long before we ever connect with our partner. Sometimes we’re not fully conscious of our beliefs.
It’s worth exploring our underlying attitudes so we understand how to deal with money issues in a relationship. Because the way money is used in a relationship can be loaded with meaning and power and lead to conflict. I know a couple who is in constant conflict because he refuses her any access to his checking account—and he is the main bread winner—so she writes checks and bounces them repeatedly. He exerts power over her and she retaliates.
To get past this you need to understand your personal money history and your partner’s. Maybe your father was a penny pincher who didn’t let the family indulge in anything extra or frivolous. Perhaps he grew up poor and didn’t have enough for a rainy day. But you felt deprived and now that you’re an adult you’d like to splurge a little. Maybe your partner frowns upon that. Maybe she doesn’t mind splurging, but she would be extravagant on groceries while you might like to book an expensive vacation. There are all sorts of reasons why we spend money the way we do, and few are logical.
The key is to talk with your partner and share your ideas about money:
1) What did you learn from your parents about money? Did you have an allowance growing up? Were you taught to spend some, save some and give some to charity? If so, how much? What did you parents teach you by example?
2) What is the history of money in your family? I have a friend whose mother’s side of the family was well-to-do but lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929. Her father’s side never had much money and cheerfully acknowledged that the crash brought everyone else down to their level. You can imagine that these two families had very different ideas about money.
3) What are your fears or insecurities about money? One partner may be worried that money will run out and there won’t be enough for a comfortable old age. The other partner may worry he will die before he can enjoy life. These two will want to work out saving and spending conflicts that are bound to arise between them.
4) What are your financial goals? You and your partner will probably not have the same exact goals so you need to find a way so your goals can be harmonious. What can you do so you are both on the same page in the short- and long-term?
Couples who work together as a team, who share financial jobs equally, who discuss expenses and review savings plans have a healthy relationship. You will not always see eye to eye but you will know how your partner feels and he’ll know how you feel. When discussions get heated, consider why your partner feels as he does. And give him some time to consider where you’re coming from. Then return to your conversation when you’ve both had a time out.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Psychotherapist. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us