April 27, 2011

Money Conflicts in Marriage: It's not just about the Money

Money Conflicts in Marriage: It's not just about the Money

Couples fight about money more than anything else, including sex.  Conflicts involving money are so difficult  because couples often aren't aware that their struggle is not just about money. Today we’re going to discuss those other factors and  offer some tips that will make finding financial solutions  easier.

The Psychology of Money

Money issues are complex not simple and it is important to be aware of the factors which can explain why dealing with interpersonal conflicts over money are so difficult: 
-- For one thing, money means different things  to different people and folks have very different styles when it comes to spending it. For the most part, folks are either savers or spenders.  Ironically, a savers tends to marry a spender and vise versa.       
-- Likewise, while financial disputes involve numbers, their resolution is not mathematical. There is no one "right" way to deal with money.  Specifically, how much and what money can be spent and how much must be saved is something that each couple must work out for themselves.
-- In addition to its literal significance, money also has a symbolic and emotional meaning that is not always recognized. The fundamental economic dilemma of having unlimited wants and limited means makes balancing budgets and allocating  family expenditures difficult, however, because these tasks involve  unconscious psychological dimensions .  
--  Arguments over money are rarely just about money.  Money, especially not having enough or not being able to spend it, touches three of our most fundamental needs and fears: Security, Control and Deprivation .
-- Theses fears are activated when discussion trigger unpleasant memories  from the past.  Many of us can recall when times were tough  or hearing angry remarks made by our parents or other adults concerning money when we were children.  Difficult  times as well as comments spoken in anger can often leave a lasting  impression (fear) on one's thinking and feelings about money even into adulthood.       

For example, consider two very common (and very old) complaints which are heard in the midst of many fights over money, “ Your spending will  send us to the poorhouse.”  or on the other hand, “You are so stingy" or  "You never want to do anything that costs money.”  

The first comment exposes the underlying fear: I will be poor and unable to take care of myself.  The second comment reveals the underlying fear of being deprived and missing out on life  or  a basic control issue, viz.,  "You're not the boss of me".  

While each of  the underlying fears is legitimate,  they may not directly relate to the specific dispute a couple is having.  The emotional intensity, which accompanies these agitated primal fears, can cloud  our judgment and block our ability to speak reasonably or resolve financial problems.  

Therefore, in order to have a more reasonable conversation over a disagreement involving money, two things must be done. 1) The emotional contaminants must be identified and separated out of the practical discussion. and 2) Each person's fears must be empathically addressed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Tips for Talking About Money

  • Be Aware Understand  and empathize with each other's style and history regarding monetary issues.  (Understand your own and your partner's point of view and prior bad experiences. )
  • Deal with Emotional Issues First.  Identify and bracket out extraneous factors. (Reality test the fears and see if they are relevant to the immediate issue or have more to do with past experiences.)
  • Define the problem and stay in the present. ( Don't bring up the past or make gross generalization like "You always or you never."  
  • Respect each other’s point of view. ( Realize there is no “right” outlook.)
  • .Work out trade-offs that address each partner’s concern.

  • While arguments concerning money are difficult to resolve, they are not impossible. Mutual understanding and consideration goes a long way in not only  lowering the temperature of the discussions and can greatly improve the results but also increasing the intimacy and closeness you experience with one another.
                                              The Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, prepared these remarks for Bridge Street  4 27 2011.
     

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