Ending Stress Over Money In Your Relationship
By Robbie Engelmann
Robbie Engelmann, MFT, CHT is a psychotherapist with 27 years experience. She works with both individuals and couples on money challenges. She and her partner, Armin Rosencranz, JD, PhD, a Stanford professor, lead couples and money workshops.
You want to save, he wants to spend. She uses the credit card like it was some magic wand to get whatever she wants while you take an extra job because you can't meet basic living expenses on current income. So how do you deal with one another?
Would getting a huge raise or winning the lottery eliminate the money problems in your relationship? Unfortunately, no. Although it would solve the problem of having enough money to meet basic living expenses, even couples with high incomes or a large inheritance have conflict over money. Psychologists estimate that 90 percent of couples divorcing do so over money. But this is the easy explanation. From my clinical experience, fights over money are usually never simply about money. People use money for a wide range of different needs beyond just meeting the cost of basic necessities for food, shelter and health. Money is used for control, power, influence, status, security, to fill loneliness and insecurities and to live our fantasies.
Relatively few people are financially literate. Our school curriculum does not include learning about how to use money well and many do not know how to craft a realistic budget or how savings can grow with compound interest. Most of us grow up quite ignorant about how to use money well. And we certainly aren't educated about how to approach money when we decide to take on a life partner. Do we keep all finances separate? Merge everything together? Try to make sure everything is equally divided in terms of who pays for what even if the two incomes differ radically? Am I really making a commitment to take care of you? People come to a partnership with different money histories and may not even be aware of how their financial behavior is influenced by family conditioning. They may be duplicating the behavior of their parents or acting out against it; they may want to feel financially free after a family history of hardship or hoard money because they experienced never having enough.
If you are in a relationship where you experience stress over money you can do a lot to reduce and even eliminate this stress. The most important factor is understanding the impact your individual money history has had on your current financial behavior and accepting that your partner has had a different history, which has led to different needs and behavior. Fully accepting this will go a long way to reduce your reactivity to specific things which concern you about your partner's behavior.
At the heart of this process is listening with full attention to what your partner is sharing. If something your partner shares is upsetting to you, make a mental note to deal with it but do NOT interrupt the sharing that is going on. Both of you should get equal time to talk about what you feel may have influenced you without being censored by the other. Finding a good time to do this is essential and having a series of these conversations, all a manageable length of time, is helpful.
Ask your partner how their mother and father deal with money, and what particular messages they remember getting from the culture or other significant people in their life when they were growing up. Ask what money means to them. Once you have made time to understand how you and your partner have been influenced in relating to money, you will have more perspective on why you both make the choices you make around spending, saving or investing money. It will become easier for you both to choose a structure that will allow you to prioritize your values relative to money and make an overall financial plan which takes both of your needs into account. You can do this yourself or work with someone who can give you support for this process, particularly if you feel overwhelmed.
Money is still a taboo topic in our culture. Although people complain or boast about money, and experience much worry, anxiety and depression over it, very few people talk openly about what money means to them. If you choose to open your mind to learning about money, you will find that not only is it an interesting process but also a path toward personal growth and a way to enrich your relationship.
And regardless of how much money you have, your life will feel richer when you succeed in ending conflict over money between the two of you.
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