couple-fighting-over-money-150x150It is not uncommon for partners to have different views about money. To spend or not to spend – – – that is the question!

Bridget, the “saver,” believed money should be spent on “needs” and judged the “wants” of her husband, Joe, as unnecessary and frivolous. She reacted angrily when Joe bought a 1978 Corvette to restore.

Joe, “the spender,” didn’t understand the intensity of Bridget’s reaction and felt attacked. He worked hard and this was his one and only hobby. He saw this as a reasonable and legitimate purchase and viewed Bridget’s reaction as controlling and obsessive.

In counseling, we explored the specific emotions surfacing for each partner.Bridget experienced feelings of anxiety and mounting insecurity, and Joe felt unjustly judged. We dug deeper to get under the present thoughts and emotions, and explored the couple’s past life experiences to see what was being triggered.

Consciously or unconsciously, the memories of our distant past impact us the most readily and profoundly.

For Joe and Bridget to resolve this clash of thoughts and feelings over money, each must take into account the backgrounds of oneself and of the other.

Bridget was raised in a family that had experienced significant financial insecurities. When her father was laid off after 15 years with the same company, her family struggled and eventually had to file bankruptcy. They lost the home she’d grown up in and moved to a different neighborhood. She was never able to establish strong friendships like she’d had before. She recalled a generalized fear over spending. They just “got by” and it was important that all money be accounted for. This atmosphere was profoundly felt by the family and proved very scary for Bridget as a child. The lessons learned early on formed a foundational framework for Bridget as an adult in her feelings about money – spending and saving.

By the same token, Joe grew up in a family with financial problems but his parents carefully shielded him from the insecurities and impact of money concerns. He experienced a completely different feeling about spending and saving. He never worried about it and knew things would work out.

couple-money-cloud-150x150After this exploration of the meaning of money and the impact of spending, the emotions raised for each partner made sense. Bridget and Joe moved away from talking about Joe’s purchase of the car as right or wrong. Both of their reactions became more logical as a result of understanding their earliest experiences.

In therapy, Joe was able to empathize more clearly with the strong emotions spending on hobbies had for Bridget. She thought of money in terms of survival and planning for difficult times. Bridget understood Joe’s lack of worry wasn’t because he didn’t care about protecting the family. Instead it was the result of his experience that his parents worked through hard times without burdening him with the worry. Joe acknowledged protecting the family and preparing for a rainy day (or year) would make Bridget feel safer. Bridget realized it was vital for Joe to have a hobby he was passionate about. They went over the finances together and agreed that a certain amount would be put aside for saving and on an amount Joe could use for his car.

If a couple starts financial conversations with a foundation of awareness of themselves, questions about what should be spent and what should be saved will be more easily addressed.

We recommend having financial conversations before problems arise. 

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What was your family’s financial history?
  • What did you learn about money – spending and saving?
  • Did you feel there was an abundance or a scarcity of money?
  • How did your parents make financial decisions?
  • How do we want to work through decisions about money?

Don’t wait until you experience conflict about an issue that can wreak havoc on relationships. Do it now and set the foundation of open dialogue about money.