Money Talk for Couples Part I: Influences from the Past and the Present

One of the hardest topics for many couples to talk about is money. When and how to bring this up; early on in the dating stage or perhaps when the relationship is more serious? Many couples married for a long time have a hard time discussing issues around money. Why is this so difficult to do?  Money has underlining implications for many of us defining prestige, power, security, and self-worth. Spending money can even serve as a way of self-soothing from stress (getting a ‘chemical high’ from buying).

What are the messages we learn from our society about money? One is you work hard and the more you earn is determined by a combination of your educational level,  risk-taking abilities, and effort. But we know this is not always true. Perhaps you inherited money or you’re in a valued field, such as certain sciences or math. You might have put a lucky beat on a fund and made a tremendous amount. This can affect decision-making around money. Some high earners believe they should have more say around purchasers because they make so much more than their partner. This can cause a lot of friction for the couple. Other couples look at the contributions both make to the relationship without the belief that the higher earner has more power.

Another message from our society is the marketing of material goods that we may think we need which we can do without. Especially with the availability of credit cards, many believe we’ve become a ‘nation of over spenders’ (of course this isn’t true for everyone). This could lead to a couple living beyond their means, incurring lots of debt.

What messages did you receive in childhood which have shaped your view of money? It can be helpful for couples to make a multigenerational money tree to show and discuss the different messages they have been exposed to. For example, one’s father could have been a spender avoiding any kind of budget; while the mother was so busy trying to make ends meet and even to save. This pattern may have been passed down from one generation to the next. The couple can then discuss how these patterns may be present in the relationship.

Does money bring happiness, security, prestige, and self-worth? We all need a certain amount of money to live, which is determined by many factors, such as, geographical location, medical complications, etc. Beyond that, having more money gives us more options. Money might bring ‘peace of mind,’ but rarely happiness or the security of being in loving relationships. If you equate money with self-worth, what will happen if you lose your job due to factors out of your control? Many of you may have lost your savings in the Recession of 2008. Rather than equating losing your job or money with self-worth, it can be determined by your accomplishments and valuable relationships that you have built over time.

It is important to become aware of your ‘money style’ and how this affects your relationship. Olivia Mellan in Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts In Your Life and Relationships presents ‘money personality types.’ You can find out your type by taking her online quiz online at http://www.moneyharmony.com/MHQuiz.html. Are you mainly an ‘amasser,’ ‘avoider,’  ‘hoarder,’ money monk’ (who thinks money is dirty and can corrupt you), or a ‘spender?’  You may identify with several aspects of these traits and it can change over time. Many people get involved with partners who have opposite ‘types.’ For example, a ‘spender’ may hook up with a ‘hoarder.’

It is recommended that early on in a relationship, conversations about money need to be discussed. This dialogue needs to continue on a regular basis throughout the relationship. How to do this will be the topic of the next blog.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.