Why do couples argue over money and what to do instead

After talk­ing to a lot of peo­ple in long term rela­tion­ships I think the most com­mon fric­tion point is mon­ey. It doesn’t seem to mat­ter if there is a lot of it or very lit­tle, argu­ments arise over who spent how much on what, what is worth sav­ing for, and what lev­el of spend­ing needs to be checked with the oth­er part­ner before­hand.
But is mon­ey real­ly what the argu­ments are about? If there was more mon­ey to share would cou­ples argue less? Sad­ly no. Because mon­ey rep­re­sents a lot more than most peo­ple realise. Mon­ey talks. It rep­re­sents pow­er, secu­ri­ty, and love, just for starters.

Mon­ey rep­re­sents secu­ri­ty. Every­one has a child­hood-gen­er­at­ed idea of how much mon­ey in the bank (or in the mat­tress) is enough mon­ey to feel secure. As a cou­ple, if you or your part­ner are going to feel safe togeth­er, then you need to know how much mon­ey that rainy day account needs to have in it, and when it should be used. Sim­i­lar­ly there is noth­ing that speaks more about your idea of secu­ri­ty than the deci­sion to own a home (or not). Should you save up mon­ey for a house if it means hav­ing no spend­ing mon­ey? It depends on your idea of secu­ri­ty. Some peo­ple need a cas­tle to feel safe while oth­ers pre­fer a tent. And all that changes (again) if you have chil­dren.

Mon­ey rep­re­sents pow­er. Hope­ful­ly pow­er is equal­ly shared in your rela­tion­ship. It is only when cir­cum­stances change that you might become aware of a shift in the bal­ance of pow­er. If one per­son leaves the paid work­force to look after chil­dren this can often affect either person’s sense of pow­er and influ­ence in the way mon­ey should be spent. It can be dif­fi­cult to equate the unpaid and demand­ing work of car­ing with the paid and demand­ing world of the worka­day world.
Mon­ey also rep­re­sents love. Yes it does. Accord­ing to the much admired Five Love Lan­guages, mon­ey is part of the equa­tion. If you haven’t heard of the Love Lan­guages basi­cal­ly it goes like this: Every­one has a need to be loved. In a cou­ple, there is an expec­ta­tion that your need to be loved will be most­ly filled by the oth­er part­ner express­ing their love to you and vice ver­sa. The trick is to know which ways your part­ner feels loved. There are basi­cal­ly five ways. One of those ways is Gift Giv­ing. This is where mon­ey comes into the equa­tion. If you or your part­ner feels very loved and cher­ished when some­one buys a gift for them then you will need mon­ey to do this. This brings me to mon­ey and pri­va­cy.
It is absolute­ly essen­tial that each per­son has a ‘no ques­tions asked’ account. The sim­ple way to organ­ise finances is to have a joint account out of which all the joint liv­ing expens­es are tak­en and all the joint income is put in. Off to the side there should be an indi­vid­ual account for each per­son and there should be a reg­u­lar and equal amount of ‘pock­et mon­ey’ going into these accounts. Then, if you want to buy your part­ner some flow­ers, he doesn’t have to know how much they cost. Sim­i­lar­ly, if you want to get a fan­cy hair­cut, she doesn’t need to know either.
If your part­ner doesn’t see the need for pri­va­cy and inde­pen­dence do not shy away from main­tain­ing a sep­a­rate bank account. Should the worst hap­pen and you sep­a­rate, it is vital you have had a cred­it his­to­ry in your own name, in order to start again. (Same goes for mobile phones and email accounts, btw it’s a sign of con­trol issues, red flag!)

The way your mon­ey is organ­ised will tell you a lot about your rela­tion­ship. In an ide­al rela­tion­ship you form a venn dia­gram where each part­ner is a cir­cle which par­tial­ly over­laps with the oth­er per­son. The over­lap­ping area is the rela­tion­ship with each oth­er. The sep­a­rate areas rep­re­sent each part­ner as an inde­pen­dent per­son. Atten­tion and main­te­nance is required in all three zones.

The rela­tion­ship zone is main­tained by fill­ing each other’s love cups, using the love lan­guages that suit each per­son. And talk­ing about how you see mon­ey, know­ing that it rep­re­sents pow­er, love, and safe­ty is a must. When you see mon­ey as a sym­bol of these things you begin to see why it is such a hot top­ic for so many cou­ples.
So when do you talk about it? Tim­ing is every­thing. If mon­ey is already a hot top­ic start talk­ing about the big­ger ideas it rep­re­sents of safe­ty, secu­ri­ty and love. Ask open end­ed ques­tions and accept the answers open­ly, no judge­ment.
• How impor­tant is a rainy day account to you?
• What do you think is the ide­al amount we should put into it?
• What sort of home do you think we need to feel safe and secure?
• What sort of home do you want for our fam­i­ly?
• What bal­ance do you want between work, free time, and mon­ey?
• How do you feel loved? (see the Five Love Lan­guages)
• How do you feel safe and secure?
• How much of your income do you want to share?
• How much no ques­tions asked ‘pock­et mon­ey’ would you like to have?
Remem­ber that, as a cou­ple, it is best to know the truth rather than go on assump­tions. Know­ing where your dif­fer­ences lie is the first step to find­ing work­able solu­tions in man­ag­ing mon­ey, and your lives, togeth­er.

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