Communicating to your partner about money isn’t always easy. There are unconscious patterns and behaviors involved that cause all sorts of problems. Because this subject has many important components to address, the information appears in a three-part series. I’ll be addressing common money issues, money traps and ways to avoid these traps, healthy steps to take, and how to communicate effectively with each other.
First, here are eight of the most common money issues couples have:
Two conflicting sets of patterns
When one person has one set of behaviors about money, and the other person has another set of actions, there’s trouble. For example, one person is hardworking, saves her or his money, organizes bills and pays them on time, and organizes financial goals for the future. These behaviors support confidence, safety, and contentment: this is the Warrior archetype. The Warrior’s partner is a spender, unorganized, feels anxious when paying bills, doesn’t know how to go online to check balances, and would rather not talk about these details. These behaviors are naïve, careless, and contribute to financial dependency. These are the Innocent and Fool archetypes.
One person in the relationship may often have difficulty expressing himself or herself. It’s difficult to discuss money with a partner if you’re holding onto anger, resentments, or grudges from the past. Accumulating these tightly held emotions is like sitting on a time bomb waiting for it to explode. It’s also the perfect setup for the unhappy partner to hide purchases out of quiet retaliation.
Differences in communication styles
We all have a communication style but when it’s time to bring up a money issue, styles can become volatile. When one person wants to clarify a problem it may trigger the other to shut down, especially when the tone is elevated and strong. Trying to stay engaged and rational isn’t always easy when a partner wants answers to questions presented with intimidation or blame.
Clash of values and priorities
One wants to spend money on beautifying the home, or go on a much-needed vacation and the other feels much more comfortable saving the money for retirement and paying off debt, having no interest in remodeling or vacationing.
Issues of control and power
It’s so easy to step into the role of “boss” (or Tyrant) when you’re the breadwinner in a relationship. For some couples, one person making more money than a partner seems to result in a sense of entitlement and control. When this happens, there’s a tendency for the other partner to become fearful, in turn creating a passive and disempowered partner. The marriage no longer feels safe and comfortable.
Parenting conflicts with children and family
When parents are not on the same page with how money will be spent on children and family needs, problems arise. This situation could easily be paired with “clash of values and priorities,” above. One example: stay-at-home moms/dads are more aware of what children need and how much extracurricular activities cost, and know the impact on the child when needs and promises are not met. The out-of-touch parent often argues that too much money is spent unnecessarily. This is not only hard on the child but erodes at the parents’ relationship, too.
Unconscious roles assumed
Role problems tend to be more gender-based. For instance, “I’m going to be the wife and mother and you, the spouse, are the man therefore the ‘breadwinner.’ ” Or, regardless of gender, one says, “you’re better with numbers than I am so you’re in charge of our money,” which is a way to stay unaware and unaccountable, and it’s easier to pull off if you’re not in charge of that role. So the other partner agrees to the role and resents it later.
Defending previously established positions
When an agreement is made, such as, “you stay home and take care of the kids and I’ll work in a job outside” it often makes both personal and economic sense. Later when the children have gone off to school, the working partner says “we need the money and we need to discuss you going back to work,” the stay-at-home spouse may dig in his/her heels over the change of position. He or she ends up defending an established agreement that no longer serves the family. This can happen in many ways, especially if the person in charge of finances says “it’s your turn now.” Couples need to be flexible and adaptable to negotiating “agreements” over time.
Getting to know each other’s “money type” early in a relationship will help you to understand money triggers. Start talking openly about your issues and anxieties about money. This isn’t always easy if it’s been going on for years: you’ll need support.
In my next two articles I will continue the conversation about common money traps and ways to avoid them, healthy and practical steps, and communication tips for couples to improve their relationships with money. Until then, I recommend The Heart of Money: A Couple’s Guide to Creating True Financial Intimacy, written by Deborah Price.