Money can be a touchy topic in relationships, whether you have a little bit or a whole lot. How we handle money is usually related to a deeper emotional issue, rather than strictly a financial issue. Our personal relationship with money creates the foundation for how we handle finances in our significant relationships. And when our partners don’t share the same type of relationship with money as we do, money-handling can cause tension and disagreements, possibly leading to resentment and even breakups, if the issues persist.
It’s common that both partners may not agree about money-handling, but it’s possible to compromise. The trouble generally starts either when financial guidelines in the relationship haven’t been established — so there are no boundaries for handling money; or when guidelines are established, but the boundaries are crossed without discussion or agreement (such as power structures entering the relationship — the person who makes more deciding how to use it, for example).
One of the biggest areas of conflict I hear in couples therapy is the idea that one wants to put money away for the future, while the other wants to live in the present and stop saving so much. While there may be validity to both points of view, these desires are competing, and therefore will need compromise in order to keep conflict from continuously arising.
It takes time to change our personal relationships with money. We may have the urge to spend or save, much in the same ways we internalized growing up. Undoubtedly, compromises take self-discipline. For the sake of balancing our relationship, we may need to be a little more flexible, or a little more assertive with our voice around money than we may be used to.
So here are some things to consider in order to balance the issue of money in your relationship:
1) The money conversation is open. Unless previously agreed, neither side should dictate how money is spent, or have the ability to “close” conversations because they don’t agree with a request. Compromise requires both sides to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to requests for how to handle money, even if the requests don’t align with our own money-handling values.
2) Remove the power differential. This is especially the case for marriages where one partner makes significantly more than the other. Allowing the amount of money you bring to the relationship to suggest a status of power (or inferiority) can be destructive, even if it seems to one of you to make logical sense that making more money would put a person more in charge of it. In order to have a balanced relationship, the components within the relationship have to be balanced — which means understanding that if a marriage is going to avoid money-related conflict, the earnings are for the unit, not just for the self.
3) Learn about your partner’s relationship with money. A little understanding can go a long way. Rather than having the same argument over and over, learn about the money dynamic in your relationship and your partner’s past. How did your partner experience money growing up? How did you? How did each of your parents? Knowing what you are working with in each other’s past can help you be more sensitive to current needs and desires, and help pave the way for compromise.
There’s no perfect solution to money conflicts. The suggestions above are meant to help both partners be on the same page. The more that’s decided together in advance, the less there will be to disagree about later on. Keeping the conversation open is healthy — communicating with your partner as things come up, and then re-compromising to make changes as necessary. Always keep in mind that you’re both together, as a team in this.
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