The number one issue that most couples fight about is money. It’s not money that is activating these intense emotional reactions. It’s all of the things that money symbolizes power, security, worth, trust, love, and even our very survival. The possible, or actual loss of money can activate some of our deepest fears that prompt us to act defensively as well as offensively. These reactions inevitably generate similar responses on the part of our partner. We feel like we are in a life-threatening situation that requires extreme measures to ensure our survival.

Given our perception of the stakes, conversations easily burst into flames. Even in a healthy economy, feelings about money tend to be intense. In a weak economy, financial anxiety rises even higher, often leading to addictive behaviors, depression, insomnia, and abusive interactions.  When a relationship is unstable, to begin with, extreme financial stress can push a couple over the edge.

The intensity of money-related fears prompts a variety of responses. One response is to adopt the path of avoidance. We don’t want to think about it, talk about it, or deal with it, and so we don’t. It’s not until the pressure forces us to confront our feelings, and those of our partner, that we are forced to abandon denial. We reach a point where we can no longer not deal with it anymore. The classic argument stems from the differences between the spender and the saver. While in theory, this difference can produce a necessary balance in the relationship, in practice, it can turn into a nightmarish, ongoing conflict. When these differing points of view become too polarized, they become destructive.

The unanticipated stresses from differing beliefs about money  

We enter into relationships with the hope of experiencing a happier life. Much to our surprise, we often discover that committed partnerships bring us unanticipated difficulties as well as fulfillment. These expectations set us up for disappointment. The willingness of each partner to assume responsibility for their contribution to the situation is what allows for a higher degree of goodwill. Until the couple is able to move to this level of responsibility, they remain stuck in the fight or flight system, alternating between defensiveness and aggression.

Some examples of what fuels these conflicts include:

  • Feelings of shame over not making an adequate amount of income
  • Embarrassment about poor money management
  • Not having sufficiently saved for a rainy day
  • Painful memories from childhood about being poor and hungry
  • Fears about becoming destitute and homeless
  • When fears (irrational and rational) are withheld, they tend to intensify the emotions that underlie them. The cure is the willingness to acknowledge them and have them be accepted with compassion.

Behaviors that rob couples of harmony and trust include:

  • Dishonesty about earnings or debt
  • Concealing secret accounts and investments  
  • Making purchases behind the other’s back

 

Underlying beliefs can be subtle and difficult to recognize.

Examples of such beliefs include:

  • Men are better equipped to handle money than women (or vice-versa)
  • Money is hard to come by.
  • It’s a dog-eat-dog world
  • Zero-sum thinking (If I have more, then others will have less)  
  • Money can buy happiness

Identifying our concerns is an important step in the process of detaching from these beliefs. 

Because the subject of money can be so highly charged, it is a challenge to dialogue with a partner in a respectful way.

Here are some requirements:

  • Courage to engage in a subject that can so easily trigger tender feelings
  • Tolerance to resist blaming oneself or others. 
  • Patience to stay in dialogue around the issues for as long as it takes to establish mutually acceptable agreements about how the money will be handled. *Many conversations to set policies in place that are mutually satisfying.
  • Understanding develops as both partners become increasingly able to respect each other’s perspectives. 
  • These conversations open new possibilities that enable couples to not only live in greater harmony.

Examples include:

  • Cutting back to live below their means,
  • Co-creating action plans get out and stay out of debt
  • Working together to utilize each other’s strengths rather than trying to coerce each other into complying with their preferred ways of doing things.

When reactive patterns are neutralized through mutual respect, couples can experience true financial intimacy. When there is a willingness to confront these challenges, relationships can transform. According to several studies, happy, cooperative couples also make more money. But it’s not the money that makes them happier. It’s the connection that they create that enables them to be transparent, and deepening love on an ongoing basis. That’s the big win.

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Comment by Linda Bloom on May 24, 2020 at 4:46pm

Abstract: Once there are some productive conversations about what money means to us, we can go on to have a vision and action plan that we can implement that will manifest into wealth as a result of our combined efforts and the co-creative process. It is only when reactive patterns are neutralized through mutual respect, that couples can experience true financial intimacy.

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