Money is a common cause of conflict and tension in relationships. Too often, couples have compatibility in most areas, but not around money. How we relate to money has a lot to do with what our thoughts and beliefs are about money. These beliefs develop in early childhood and build and grow as we move into adulthood. Maybe you think your parents taught you nothing about money but, trust me, you learned plenty from them. Maybe part of you believes that “money is the root of all evil” or maybe you grew up with a lot of scarcity so you fear being without money. Maybe you think you work hard so “deserve” to treat yourself, or maybe you think it’s important to buy a house and that renting is a waste of money. Whatever your beliefs, they are often “below the surface.” In other words, you don’t realize you have them, you just think certain things are “right.”
When you start a relationship, you might find a culture clash when it comes to money. You might both be from the United States but, if one of you comes from money and one of you comes from scarcity, that’s like growing up in two different countries. All this tension about money naturally “bleeds” into other aspects of your relationship and you might find yourself forgetting the last time you had sex or felt close to your partner. It can feel like you’re in a battle when you don’t agree.
The bottom line is, money doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your love life. With the right information and a change in your thoughts about money, even financially incompatible couples can find a way to live happily.
So, let’s look at some of the beliefs you might be carrying around about money that are getting in the way of your happy life:
- We have to combine our money or we’re setting ourselves up for divorce. It was common in previous generations to have one account. This grew out of the fact that women weren’t even allowed to have their own credit cards until 1974 and often weren’t working outside the home. So, there was one income and men usually decided how it was spent. Not that long ago, women were often given a “house allowance” and that was that. Things are different now and although many couples still have joint accounts, others keep separate accounts and some have both. There’s no one right way to do it. You can do whatever you want as long as it’s fair and doesn’t create resentments. In other words, everyone needs to agree, not just the person making the most money.
- It’s your debt. These days, people are getting married later and more women are going to college so many individuals come into a marriage with student loan or credit card debt. Individuals in a couple think it’s the other person’s debt and why should I be responsible for decisions they made about money before we got together? Seriously?! You’re going to build a life with someone and you think you can separate “his and hers” with debt? Why do you even want to? And what makes you think it can ever really be separate? Sharing your life with someone means emotional closeness or intimacy. Why is money outside of that? If someone came into your life with a child, would you have nothing to do with that kid? How would that even work?
Instead of thinking of it as “her debt” think of it as “our debt.” Brainstorm how you’re going to pay it off together. If her debt is really this big a deal, then maybe that’s a deal breaker and you shouldn’t be together. But, if you’ve got the woman of your dreams in front of you, I think you’re crazy to let something like money get in the way. In the end, money isn’t the thing that’s going to make for a happy life. It’s the quality of the person you choose.
- Labeling one as “good with money” and one as “bad with money.” I hear this one A LOT in the work I do with couples. “She’s not good with money.” “He’s a spender and I’m a saver.” You’re wrong. No one is “right” or “wrong” with money in a relationship. You just find different things important. Everyone is a “spender” in this life. You just spend on different things and judge what that means based on how you were raised and what you believe about money. The key is to figure out a budget that works for both of you.
- What they don’t know can’t hurt ‘em. Hiding money in a relationship is more common than I want to think. Sometimes it means lying about how much something cost so you don’t upset your partner ($200 on a pair of shoes?! $300 for a haircut?! $20 for a block of cheese?!) Other times it’s not telling your partner when you work overtime and have some extra money (“I worked the extra hours, so it’s really my choice what to do with it”) or something as big as hiding assets (“I’ll just keep this nest egg separate so I have some insurance”). Keeping money secrets in a relationship undermines it, pure and simple. If your partner doesn’t like something, you need to find an agreement and budget for it. These conversations are KEY to an open, emotionally close relationship. Secrets around money create distance.
- Money is the most important thing. These days, it’s harder and harder to “make ends meet.” The cost of living is crazy and money just doesn’t go as far as it once did. However, making money the be all end all, is a mistake. I’ll tell you this: You can make money, but you can’t make peace. Sometimes, throwing money at something so you can have peace in your life, is the very best option. Holding on to money, at the cost of your well-being and day-to-day happiness is a problem. Really think about what you’re arguing about. Choose your battles wisely. Having a nuclear war over the $20 extra dollars your wife paid because she chose the more expensive gardener is just not worth it.
- You’re equals but everything should not be split 50/50. It doesn’t matter who makes more money. You need to get rid of the power plays or these will show up in other places (like the bedroom). If you’re making 30% more money than your partner, then she shouldn’t be responsible for 50% of the bills. “Splitting” bills needs to be on a percentage basis. Physically paying the bills doesn’t mean you get to make all the decisions. Have both of you pay the bills by sharing back and forth so you can both keep informed.
Remember that equality and equity are two different things.
And what if you’re the sole bread winner? It doesn’t matter. You’re still equals when it comes to deciding how to spend the money you earn. If you don’t want to share your money (and the power and control that comes with that), then you probably don’t want to share much else. Think about it.
- Collaborate, don’t divide. Instead of spending energy criticizing or worrying about your partner’s spending, figure out mutual goals you have for the couple. What’s important to you both? Stop being defensive. Instead, get curious and ask questions. It’s not “How could you do/think that?!!?!” It’s “Tell me where that thinking comes from?” or “Could you tell me your thinking behind that?”
The Big Answer
The big answer to take care of all of these beliefs and get everyone on the same page is to have a monthly financial meeting. By sitting down each month and going over your budget and goals, you’ll find yourselves collaborating as a couple.
I want to give you a quick example. I worked with a couple awhile back who came to me because they were headed for divorce. The husband was being distant and angry and the wife was reacting to this with being needy and nagging. They were in a miserable cycle. What’s interesting is that money was not something they ever had an issue with. He was the sole breadwinner and was making a lot of money. Enough for them to have a big house, cars, vacations and send all three kids to private school.
I told them to start having a monthly financial meeting and they originally fought me on this. “This is the only area we don’t have any issues!” he cried. I persisted. So, they started having these monthly meetings, initially finding them a waste of time. But, a magical thing happened at meeting #4. The husband said something about how much he hated his job and felt trapped because of his “need” to provide for the family. His wife, smartly, started talking to him about this. When they came into their next session after this meeting, they were a different couple. You see, he didn’t see any way out of this “trap” because of his beliefs about how important their lifestyle was to his wife and kids. He wasn’t sharing his misery so she didn’t know what was going on. Once it was out there, she was highly motivated to change their financial situation. Her reasoning was simple: “I’d rather have an intact family and a happy marriage than a cruise to the Bahamas every year.”
They worked together to create a three-year plan for the husband to leave his job and for them to still be able to have a secure financial future. They were both open to having a different lifestyle and started working together to make that happen. They stopped seeing me soon after.
I’ve found this to be true again and again with couples. It might seem like having a monthly financial meeting isn’t really going to do much – but it does and in ways you can’t even imagine right now. It literally changes the landscape of your relationship. Are there fights, disagreements and discomfort on the way? Often, yes. BUT, the outcome can be a happy, satisfying marriage filled with great sex and peace so the bumps are worth it.
You might be wondering where to start. Well, being me, I’ve created a couple FREE awesome tools for you. If you don’t have a budget yet, you can enter your name and email below this blog and get access to both the Monthly Budget Template as well as the Monthly Financial Meeting Outline. I’ve been using this system with couples for years with great success. Try it out and, as always, I’d love to hear your comments and successes.