“We do not have a money problem in America. We have a values and priorities problem.” – Marian Wright Edelman
Understanding that money and work conflicts are often disagreements over values and priorities explains why money/work issues cause tensions to run high. But when financial decisions must be made with another person, the future of your relationship rests on your ability to resolve those conflicts.
Why Are Money Conversations So Difficult?
Arguments about money are different from other disagreements because they typically last longer — you’ll always need money — and they often involve rehashing issues you’ve fought about before. So it’s no surprise that couples frequently put off these conversations, believing they will be unpleasant. Unfortunately, ignoring money issues doesn’t make them disappear; over time, problems can grow.
Some conflicts resolve themselves. If one partner is especially busy at work and is spending more time at the office than usual, that can put a strain on the relationship. But, inevitably, things will slow down at work, and the problem will melt away. Money concerns, however, may never go away. You will always be making, saving, and spending money, and the potential for disagreements is ever-present.
Another reason talking about money is difficult is that our views on money are often rooted in long histories of beliefs and behaviors. How our parents handled money — and our own early experiences with money — likely influences our current mindset. As a result, changing how we think about and handle money can be easier said than done. Change is possible, but not always immediately. Rather, a series of small adjustments, spaced out over time, will allow partners to adapt to each new change.
Understanding Your Partner
A couple must, of course, work together to deal with money issues. The first step in this process is for partners to examine their own views on money. Ask yourself these questions: How did your parents handle money? When did you first have money of your own? What feelings did having money create for you? Does money serve specific values, such as security, peace of mind, or independence? How do your priorities influence your money habits? Once you understand what’s behind your views on money, share them with your partner.
Next, find out why your partner thinks about money the way she does. Ask her the same questions you asked yourself. As you’re listening to her answers, put yourself in her shoes. Doing so can give you a clearer sense of her position and the thoughts and feelings shaping it. Pay close attention to how her priorities and values affect her relationship with money. Is your partner a spender or a saver? Does she want to use money to buy things or do things? Listening to your partner and empathizing with her views on money will help you come together around a plan that respects the histories and experiences you have each had with money.
One factor to consider is gender. Research has shown that men tend to react to money conflict with anger, and women with depression. These responses may be due to the fact that, in the vast majority of households, men still earn more money than women. So men often get angry because they see their hard-earned money being used in ways they don’t like. Women, on the other hand, often feel a sense of dependence or a lack of control if they earn less or work exclusively in the home, earning no salary at all.
Appreciate the fact that, regardless of whose name is on the paycheck, both partners work hard in their respective roles. Working in the home may not bring money in, but it often lowers the amount of money going out. Realizing that income and outflow both contribute to the financial state of a household can help you appreciate the value that each partner adds to the relationship.
Finding Middle Ground
When we’re single, we can make decisions that benefit us — and us alone. But when we make up half of a couple, we have to accept that we sometimes need to take less so we can give more to our partner. Compromise can be difficult, but it’s essential for creating a lasting and healthy relationship.
Of course, some compromises are easier than others. If one partner wants to spend $25 a month on entertainment and the other wants to spend $75, compromising on $50 may be reasonable. Other compromises require accepting that sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes your partner gets what she wants. The goal of compromise is to ensure that, in the long run, each partner’s needs are being met. This will only happen if you are working together to find solutions to the financial issues you’re facing.
Financial issues affect the success of many relationships. Couples often think the solution is to figure out how to be better with money. It may be more productive, however, to examine your individual values and priorities to find values and priorities that you, as a couple, share. If you are both operating with the same goals in mind, you are more likely to use money in ways that support your shared goals.
Our views of money often have deep roots in the past, serve specific needs in the present, and guide important goals for the future. Respecting the past, enjoying the present, and preparing for the future is a tall order when money is tight. By working together and making decisions jointly, couples can chart a financial path that will lead to a lasting relationship.
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