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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Relationships: Arguing About Money

In my prior blog post, I discussed sexual incompatibility as being one of the major reasons why couples come to marriage or couples counseling (see link below). In this blog post, I'll focus on one of the other major reasons why couples seek help--arguments about money.

Money is often symbolic of power. Whoever has or makes more money in a relationship is often seen as the more powerful person in the relationship, and this can lead to arguments.

Relationships: Arguing About Money

Similarly, differing values about money between a couple in a relationship can also lead to arguments and, at times, irreconcilable differences.

What Are the Different Problems that a Couple Can Have About Money?

The Saver vs the Spender:
It's not unusual in a relationship for there to be one person who prefers to save money and another person who would rather save money. When this is the particular dynamic in a relationship, there are bound to be differences of opinion and, often heated arguments, about what to purchase, when to make purchases, when to save, and, in general, how to manage the money.

Combining Each Person's Money vs Having a Separate Pot of Money:
Couples often differ as to whether they should pool the money that they had before they got together or if they should each keep what they had and create a separate pot of money to pay bills, make major purchases, etc.

For the person who prefers to combine their individual financial accounts, he or she might feel that the other person doesn't trust him/her enough to combine assets or lacks faith in the relationship.

The person who wants to keep their individual accounts separate and create a separate pot for expenses might have gotten burnt in prior relationships by pooling all the money together. With combined finances, it's not unusual for there to be problems if the couple separates. Of course, no one wants to enter into a relationship thinking that things might not work out, although this is a reality for many couples.

What to Do About Prior Debt:
Related to the above, if one person in the relationship enters the relationship with excessive debt, the couple needs to make decisions about how to handle that debt. Are they going to work on reducing the debt together or is the person with the debt going to take care of it on his or her own? If the couple can't negotiate their differences around this issue, it can become a major issue between them leading to frequent arguments.

Secrecy About Money:
I've seen many couples where one or both people keep secrets about money. For some people, it's a matter of withholding information about debt or how much money or assets they have or other related issues. Often, when there's secrecy about money, there are often other issues related to secrecy. If one of the people in the relationship finds out that his/her partner has been keeping secrets about money, it often engenders feelings of anger, betrayal and lack of trust.

Money as Power and Control:
As previously mentioned, when there is a difference in assets or earning power within a relationship, this can create arguments around power and control. The person who earns more money might feel that this gives him/her the right to greater control over their money and other major decisions. If the other person in the relationship doesn't agree and they can't negotiate this, this issue can lead to big arguments.

Money as a Cover Up for Other Problems in the Relationship:
Sometmes, it's really not about the money per se. The couple might be arguing about money because it's a concrete and tangible issue, but the real issue might be about other feelings. For instance, if one of the people in the relationship feels that there is a power differential in the relationship (let's say that one person makes most of the decisions that effect the relationship), the person who feels less powerful can use money as a handy issue to argue about when it might not be about the money (although it could be).

Using Money as a Way to Get Revenge:
When there are problems in a relationship, sometimes one of the people "acts out" by running up credit cards or overspending in some way to get back at his or her partner. This is an issue that I'll address in a separate post. However, it's easy to see how this could create arguments and, in some cases, end a relationship.

In most of these cases, there is often poor communication in the relationship and/or fundamental value differences about money and other important issues.

As I mentioned in a prior blog post, it's always better to talk about money before getting married or entering into a committed relationship. It often saves a lot of heartache if a couple can either negotiate these issues beforehand or, prior to making a major commitment, find out that they're just not compatible with regard to money and they're unable to negotiate these issues. But many people neglect talking about money until they're already in a relationship and it becomes a major problem.

If you and your partner or spouse are arguing about money, before this problem sabotages your relationship, get help. This is a common problem that can often be worked out with professional help.

Aside from the possibility of consulting with a financial planner who can help you with the "technical" nuts and bolts regarding money issues, consulting with a marriage or couples counselor can help you to navigate the emotional rough waters related to money problems.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many couples to work out the emotional issues around money so that they can stop arguing about money and enjoy their relationship.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or send me an email:

Also see:
Overcoming Sexual Incompatibility

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