Have you and your spouse ever argued over money? If so, you’re definitely not alone.
It’s not uncommon for couples to encounter considerable marital stress over finances. Money-related issues have the potential to drive a wedge between the most committed and loving people. Often conflicts over money intensify after couples begin living together. Cohabiting forces you to deal with the realities of juggling shared and individual expenses, making decisions about who will pay the bills, how to allocate money for non-essentials, how much to save…
Let’s look at several reasons why dealing with money has the potential to create problems in your relationship. You might be surprised to find that having too little money is just one reason why couples clash over finances.
Love and Money: 5 reasons Why Money can Cause Conflict
1. Not having enough.
Let’s start with the most obvious (but not necessarily the most relevant). Do you assume that if you and your partner make more money, your marriage or relationship would be better off? This is a common assumption. Anxieties about not having enough money can create significant tension—straining the very bond that holds you and your mate together. After all, the danger of eviction or foreclosure is serious business.
Conflicts over money are more destructive when one person blames the other for any financial struggles. You might feel that your spouse isn’t holding up his/her end of the financial responsibilities and should be doing more to contribute. Or your partner might believe you are wasteful in your spending.
Learn to become aware of any unexamined expectations you might have about money that could be contributing to the tension. What expectations do you hold about how much money your partner should make? Are these expectations based on your own assumptions or did you partner make certain promises about his/her income?
2. Money as Power.
For many people, money equals power (and all couples must negotiate the power dynamics in their relationship). For them, money is a means to obtaining material possessions that represent status and success—above and beyond the need for financial security. When you fall into the “money equals power” trap, you hitch your self-worth to money. You rely on the amount of money you make and number of possessions you accumulate as a way to feel good about yourself. In order to protect your self-esteem, you feel the need to maintain control of the household finances. You may become highly driven to earn as much money as possible, often at the expense of your marriage.
Relationship conflicts are inevitable with the money equals power dynamic. You’ll find yourself stuck in a pattern of fighting over money. Controlling how and when money is spent becomes essential to protecting the tenuous feelings of self-importance that money offers. If your partner does not view money as a means of self-worth, s/he is likely to feel confused and frustrated by your attitude. You may feel undermined and threatened by your partner’s attempts to get you to slow down—thereby ratcheting up the tension.
3. Value clashes.
Money means different things for different people. The importance of money in your family of origin has shaped your values and expectations about the role of money in your relationship. For some, money is nothing more than a necessary evil used to survive. For others it brings a sense of security—a feeling that “we’re OK.” How you feel about money is a reflection of your core values. For instance, if you’re someone who values helping those who are less fortunate, money is a way to give aid. For a highly competitive person, accumulating wealth will give the upper hand—a means of beating the competition (e.g., having more than your neighbors or friends).
Conflicts may develop if you and your spouse/partner hold different values about the role of money in your relationship. Examining your values about money can be helpful. Answer the following questions to help clarify your values about money:
~Do you and your partner hold the same views about spending and material possessions? How are your views the same? Different?
~What would be the first thing about your life together that you would change if money were no object? Why? What would you want to remain unchanged? Why?
4. Perceiving money and happiness as one and the same.
What do you need in order to be happy? Do you believe you’ll finally achieve happiness when you’re able to afford a certain car or boat or live in an exclusive neighborhood? Will a specific amount in your 401K plan lead to the peace that has eluded you?
Research has shown that wealthy people are no happier than the general population. If you hold the erroneous belief that the path to happiness is laced with $100 bills, you’ll waste an enormous amount of time and energy chasing an illusion. Doing so will place undue stress on your relationship. Energies that can create a deep and fulfilling connection with your partner (which is far more likely to bring you contentment than any material possessions) will be squandered elsewhere.
If you work from the money equals happiness mindset, sooner or later you’ll begin to feel disillusioned and inadequate—the futility of your actions will continue to bring you down. This will leave your partner confused and frustrated. S/he may begin to feel helpless about your dissatisfaction with life and may feel like s/he is somehow failing to meet your needs.
To help overcome this mindset, remind yourself every day that money is not the path to happiness. Think about ways you can use this information to reduce the fights you and your partner have about money. Collaborate with your spouse/partner to discover ways to find joy and fulfillment without a focus on money.
5. Money as a smoke-screen for other problems.
It’s normal for people to look for reasons outside of their relationship to explain their unhappiness. Dissatisfaction with a job or the amount of money earned can cause legitimate stress in your life. It can also be the case, however, that underlying marital/relationship difficulties (e.g., problems with emotional intimacy, lingering resentments) are ignored because you continue to search for external explanations for why your relationship is lacking. This dynamic becomes most apparent when couples begin to make enough money to live comfortably, only to discover that they are still not content.
No amount of money will lead you to feel a deeper love and connection with your partner. Feeling estranged and unfulfilled in your relationship can be a sign that your relationship needs attention—no matter how much money you make.
To help assess if there are underlying issues unrelated to money, try to imagine a money-less world without possessions (think John Lennon’s song Imagine). In this imaginary world, what would bring you and your partner peace and joy? What would make you feel connected to him/her? If you can only imagine an estranged, unhappy relationship, then money might be acting as a smoke-screen for other relationship problems that need examination.
Relationship Help Action Step:
Examine these five money-related issues with your spouse/partner and discuss if either of you feels that one or more of the above have the potential to negatively impact your marriage/relationship. It’s only through honest dialogue that these money issues can come to the surface and be resolved—and the sooner you deal with these sensitive issues, the better.
Dr. Rich Nicastro