NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Relationships: Are You and Your Spouse Constantly Arguing About Money?

Are you and your spouse constantly arguing about money? If you are, you're not alone. Arguments about money often bring couples into couples counseling when the couple can't find a way to compromise on their differences. It's one of the main reasons why people come to see a couples therapist. It's also one of the main causes of breakups and divorce.

Arguing About Money

What I'm referring to is not the occasional disagreement that many couples have from time to time about money. I'm talking about a pattern of ongoing arguments where there are fundamental differences in values and major differences in how each person relates to money.

People Often Don't Talk About Money Before They Get Married
Often, before people get married or enter into a committed relationship, they neglect talking about money and each of their particular views about it. It's very easy to get so caught up and swept away by romantic feelings that money issues might seem too mundane to talk about at that point. 

 For many people, talking about money is still somewhat taboo. So, both people enter into the marriage blissfully unaware that they might have completely different philosophies about money.

For instance, one person might be more of a saver while the other person is more of a spender. Until you live with someone and share bills, you might not really see certain patterns they have with spending or saving money. But once you're together, these issues start to come up pretty quickly with regard to both short-term and long-term money issues. 

 It's not unusual for a spouse to discover shortly after being married that his or her partner has a lot of credit card debt that was never mentioned before. There have been times when I've been amazed at the lengths that one spouse has gone to, even long into the marriage, to keep large debts a secret until they've become really out of control.

Money Can Take on Different Symbolic Meanings
Money often takes on different symbolic meanings for people. For many people, money is symbolic of self worth. The more money they have, the better they feel about themselves. 

 Conversely, having less money (either due to a job loss or other reversals in fortune) erodes their self esteem. To rely on how much money you have to determine how you feel about yourself is a very slippery slope. 

 When one or both people feel this way in a relationship, it becomes a big problem when they experience a financial downturn, and this often leads to arguments. Without strong internal resources, an over identification of money and self esteem is often a recipe for disaster.

Arguing About Money

For many couples, where one person relies on overspending to shore up an otherwise poor sense of self, hidden emotional insecurities (that were formerly kept out of conscious awareness by overspending money to feel good) come to the surface in unexpected ways when he or she can't continue overspending due to financial problems. When overspending money is no longer available as a quick fix habit to feel good, this often leads to arguments. The person who is overspending might not even realize that being unable to rely on this quick fix is causing him or her to feel irritable and unhappy.

In many couples, one or both people feel that when a spouse spends a lot of money on them, it's symbolic of how much they are loved. If they have to cut back on their spending, it feels like the spouse loves them less. Most of the time, these are unconscious feelings and they can be very powerful. At that point, the couple is challenged to find something more intrinsically meaningful in their relationship. Of course, this isn't such an all-or-nothing problem most of the time. It can be much more subtle than that. But it can still be a problem.

Getting Help in Therapy
When couples are unable to work out their differences about money, they often find it helpful to seek couples counseling. 

 A couples counselor won't provide you with financial advice, but he or she can help you to understand the emotional aspects of your problems and how to negotiate and compromise about money issues. A skilled couples counselor can also help you to see the underlying emotional issues that might be fueling your problems.

I've only touched the surface in this blog post with regard to all the different problems couples often have around money. The important thing to realize is that arguments about money, although unpleasant, are not unusual, and many couples are helped in couples counseling to overcome these problems.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist. 

 I work with individuals and couples.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.