Do you think you know the number one issue couples fight over in marriage? If you said sex, you are wrong.

It’s money!

couple fighting about money

Finances are often a touchy topic for couples, but it’s not really because of the cash. Money is symbolic and taps into many of the most important aspects of our lives.

We often assume what we think and feel about money is “right” and make our partners “wrong.” When that happens, couples become gridlocked.

Mike and Kathy came in to deal with their chronic arguments about money. Kathy wanted to go on a vacation to Italy. Mike felt it was too expensive and above their means.

Kathy: I’ve always wanted to go to Italy and have been waiting for years. Mike won’t even discuss it.

Mike: What’s the point of talking about it? The travel agent said the trip would cost at least $10,000. I can’t justify spending that kind of money on a vacation.

Kathy: But it’s my 50th birthday and we just became empty nesters. What are we waiting for? Isn’t this why we saved money for the last 25 years?

Mike: Yes, we have saved a nice nest egg for retirement, because I put away money, even though you like to spend it.

Kathy: Mike, just stop. I’m not a huge spender like some of my friends. Of course, I like to buy clothes a couple of times a year. You are just cheap. If it was up to you, we wouldn’t do anything!

Lori: It seems like you two are deadlocked and have strong feelings about your points of view. Let’s go a little deeper. I want to hear about your histories and the role money played in your families.

Mike: My dad had a business and my mom stayed home with me and my two brothers. When I was 10, my dad’s business started to fail. My parents eventually had to declare bankruptcy and we lost our house. At that age, I didn’t understand what happened. All I knew was that we moved away from my friends, I had to change schools in the middle of the year and my mom went to work for the first time.

Lori: Mike, your family experienced some extremely stressful events around money that changed your life. Do you know how that affects you today?

Mike: That’s probably why I’m so anxious about spending money. You never know what can happen. I don’t like to spend.

Lori: That’s very understandable. You hold on tight to money as a reaction to the stress you experienced when your family suffered a financial blow. How much of your current worry about money is from your past and how much belongs to your financial situation today?

Mike: It’s probably more my past. We already have a lot saved and we both have stable jobs with pensions.

Lori: Kathy, what about your history?

Kathy: My family was middle class, but I never had to worry like Mike did. When my father died at 55 years old, he left my mom financially stable, but my mother always talked about having missed out on enjoying experiences like traveling with my dad. I don’t want to wait.

Lori: I can see why this trip is so important to you.

As Kathy and Mike worked to understand and empathize with each other’s feelings, they gained perspective and appreciated their dissimilar points of view. That allowed them to work through their differences together. They ended up celebrating Kathy’s 50th in Italy and had a wonderful time.

How does your financial history affect you and your relationship?

Here are 8 questions that you and your partner can explore to dig deep and understand more about each other:

  1. What role did money play in your family growing up?
  2. Was your family well off, did they just make ends meet, or did they struggle? How aware were you of your family’s financial status?
  3. How did your parents manage money – saving vs. spending?
  4. Who was “in charge” of the money – Was it one parent or a shared responsibility?
  5. Did finances create conflict for your family?
  6. Were there issues of distrust around money?
  7. Was there financial cheating (e.g., one person making purchases without the other knowing)?
  8. What did money symbolize in your family in terms of trust, safety and security, power and control?
  9. What did you learn about managing money growing up?
  10. Were you taught how to make financial decisions, use credit cards, handle debt, prepare for retirement?

Exploring these questions with your partner will increase your understanding of each other and deepen your financial intimacy. Let us know how your conversations go.

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