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:
Behaviors that rob couples of harmony and trust include:
Underlying beliefs can be subtle and difficult to recognize.
Examples of such beliefs include:
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:
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.