Conflicts — 05 June 2006
How to resolve financial issues in your relationship

Money is a desirable commodity that most people wish to possess. It evokes many emotions spanning the gamut from lust for riches to disdain and contempt for those who have more. Not only do attitudes vary, but personality traits, upbringing, life circumstances and social perspectives mold one’s relationship to money.

Since there are so many variables involved in dealing with this commodity, couples often end up disagreeing and even feuding about their mutual use of money. Money can be one of the primary causes of rift among pairs. The move from personal to mutual options requires maturity and love.

Constitutionally, some people seem to be generous with their possessions and money from an early age. Others are frugal from the start and throughout their lives. These basic inclinations are ingrained in who we are and are not likely to alter much, even under the pressure of a loved mate.

The role models adults saw as children also helped mold their attitude toward earning and spending money. Those, for instance, who felt helpless witnessing conflicts between their parents about money, may be more sensitive to earning and spending issues in their own relationship.

Other modeling of parents about money may have come from expressed opinions and attitudes about role division and compensation. For example, one woman was told as a child that she should never earn less than her husband in order to not be controlled by him. She learned to equate money with control and this programming was destructive to her adult relationship.

Society also impacts individuals’ ideas about the value of money. It is associated with power, glamour and opportunities that are often the privilege of the few. Yet in relationships the power associated with earnings tends to sometimes evoke ill feelings. When there is a discrepancy in earnings between mates, the higher earner may feel more entitled to have the final say about spending. The lower earner may feel less powerful and may accept a subservient role in financial decisions. The price these pairs pay is the loss of equal partnership and a lop-sided decision-making process. This ultimately creates resentments, reduced self-esteem and less intimacy.

In households where one partner is the stay at home parent the above disparity in financial power may be even greater. The difficulties may express themselves in statements like these: “I am the one who brings home the bacon, so I decide how the money should be spent” or “I don’t want you to continue to spend so much money. I work and you spend, you don’t even have an idea how hard I work to make the money for our family.” These and similar statements create a parent-child interaction that is detrimental to a healthy relationship.

Some couples, who are otherwise in agreement about money, may have two different ideas about the best utilization of their mutual funds. One wants to travel, the other prefers to save for retirement. One wants to get a bigger house, buy better furniture, remodel or landscape, while the other cannot see the advantages of becoming a slave to their home and possessions. One partner wants to save for a greater inheritance for the children, while the other sees the money as their well-earned asset to be enjoyed by them.

Whatever differences couples have, the process of dealing with these is similar:

• First, create an equal status for both of you in financial choices.
• Avoid ascribing moral values to either option. Being frugal is no more honorable than being a responsible spender.
• Abstain from feeling more powerful if you are the sole or greater earner in the family. Your partner is doing his or her share in carrying the rest of the family’s load.
• If you feel that one of you is not doing enough, try to do his or her job for a weekend to determine if you are correct. Work should be gauged by time and effort, not earnings.
• Develop a family budget, even if you are meeting all your monthly expenses, to become more fully aware of all the fixed and optional expenses.
• Discuss your financial wishes for the present and future and the meaning they have for you. Often the mere wish may seem frivolous, while the deeper meaning provides the insight that makes accommodating it worthwhile.
• Solving financial problems is no different from solving any other difficulty. It requires equality, respect, openness and consideration. Using these can lead to a deeper connection between mates.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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