Why couples fight over money

Why couples fight over money

People fight about money a lot, especially in marriage. A counselor recently told me that in her experience, money is the primary reason for divorce and separation. Money is also often the symptom for a lot of other issues. When people are dating it never comes up but once they get married and their lives are a lot more intertwined, money rears its head and sometimes in an ugly way. So why do we fight about money? So here are a few common lessons from being married, conversations in our classes as we handle this topic, and discussions with some relationship professionals.

  • Different expectations that were never voiced. We get into the relationship with assumptions and we also assume that our way of doing things is the correct way and many times the only way it should be done. We then get frustrated that someone else is doing things differently and then we do not communicate that frustration well if at all. That cycle of frustration and lack of proper communication in the long term is a recipe for disaster. Also, if we do happen to have voiced these expectations, we do not communicate when the expectations have changed. You may have thought one way when you got married but another when you got children. Financial support for relatives is often another unspoken expectation. How you will send money together and individually is another. Communicate expectations and at the right time. It’s best not to talk about money when tensions and emotions are high.
  • Different beliefs about money. We come into this relationship as different people who have been socialized differently. Nobody has the same thumb print as you so nobody sees the world or believes things exactly the way you do. They may pretend for a while but it will show up somehow. Imagine if someone who grew up seeing a lot of ad hoc spending marries somebody who grew up seeing a lot of saving and investing.  Their approach to money will be different and has the potential to clash. One person wants to save whilst the other wants to spend. These beliefs are the foundation for our day to day money habits. Take the time to understand how your partner grew up, what experiences they had and what money beliefs they have come into the picture with (Click to Tweet this thought). Accept that people are different.
  • Use of money as a control mechanism. Many women in particular do feel the fact that they do not earn as much or not earn at all is used against them in decision making. Many stay at home parents do feel completely disempowered. Society has also drilled into us that the more money you have, the more power you should have. People do play different roles but money should not make one feel inferior and the other one superior in any way. It is not money that makes us equal in relationships. Look for the gaps in which money, consciously or subconsciously could be making somebody feel this way. Then figure out what structures can help with this. One of the stay at home parents I talked to told me that this finally got resolved in their relationship. She used to ask for money day to day, which was a nuisance to both of them, and was subject to so many forms of interpretation. Now she gets a fair lump sum allowance every month on a specific day that she manages for herself. If this issue goes unresolved, resentment which is a ticking time bomb will build up. Nobody likes to feel controlled or unable to make decisions.
  • Underlying issues that manifest themselves in money. This point is directly sourced from a counselor. If issues such as trust exist, money will be the symptom. One may feel the need to protect themselves because of a past experience. It could even be not trusting that someone will take your opinion into account. Also sometimes mistrust has been drilled to us by other people who have nothing to do with the relationship or just beliefs we carry around with us. This has led to people hiding assets, accounts, salaries, etc.
  • Lack of a common vision. Without vision, people do perish. Since different people come into a relationship, there needs to be something binding them and helping them pursue a common path. This applies for money as well. It helps to have something that both of you are committed to achieving. It will then be a tad easier to compromise on certain beliefs or habits if you are both motivated and vested in a bigger vision. For example, it is easier to cut down on spending when you are committed to achieving something e.g. going on a holiday, buying a car, starting a business, creating a retirement fund etc. This is more effective than simply telling someone to stop spending because spending is bad. I would suggest that couples take time every year to outline goals and if possible keep reviewing them during the course of the year.

Just like with anything in life, this money dynamic in relationships changes. It is not a one off conversation and the topic has to be discussed as intentionally as we do children and other aspects of the relationship. Keep learning, going back to what works and revising what doesn’t. Do not expect perfection from anyone. It’s a continuous fine act of balancing personal independence and the common objectives. As you navigate this remember that on your deathbed you will not look at your bank statement but who is around you.

Waceke runs a Personal Financial Management and Wealth Creation Programs at Centonomy. We do work with couples. For details email waceken@centonomy.com |Facebook/Waceke Nduati or Tweet @cekenduati 

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